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Growing Blueberries

They’re tasty and good for you 


      Our native berry has minimal disease problems. It doesn’t take up a lot of room. It’s good for you and tastes great. Eating them puts you in harmony with native Americans, who foraged them for centuries.

     There are three species of blueberries, each with many cultivars. The most common are highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum), native to the East Coast and parts of Michigan. Lowbush blueberries (V. angustifolium) grow wild on rocky hillsides in the Northeast. In the Southeast, rabbiteye blueberries (V. asheri) are smaller with tougher skins and can grow up to 15 feet tall. These take the heat better but are not as hardy in our winters.

     The domestication of the highbush blueberry started in the early 1900s when USDA botanist Dr. Frederick Coville sought superior plants for breeding in southern New Hampshire. Elizabeth White of New Jersey learned of his research and soon the two collaborated as she started the first commercial blueberry planting in America. All this resulted in the plump, juicy, sweet and easy-to-pick cultivars we enjoy today.

     Blueberries have three basic requirements. They need very acidic soil (pH 4.8-5.5), consistent moisture and plenty of sunshine. If your soil pH is too high, add pelletized sulfur to bring it down. Use three-quarters of a pound per 100 square feet for each pH unit the soil is above 4.5. For heavy soils, use three times the amount of sulfur.

     For fertilizer, blueberries prefer ammonical nitrogen as opposed to nitrate nitrogen. Composted chicken manure is a good source.

     When you plant your blueberries, mix a generous bucketful of peat moss into the soil of each hole. Dig a three-foot diameter hole a foot deep. Mix your native soil with the peat moss, and add about 10 percent compost. It’s good to add one cup of elemental sulfur to this mix along with one cup of rock phosphate and two cups of greensand.

     After planting, add a three-inch layer of mulch made up of wood shavings, pine needles, leaves or other organic materials.

     Plant different types so you’ll have a progression of berries from June to July. Duke is a very early one with excellent quality. Elliot is very productive and one of the latest ripening. Chandler is one of the biggest blueberries.

     Protect your blueberries with netting or the birds will have a feast.