Do you want to plant blueberries?

Looking at all those catalogs?  Is your imagination working overtime with all the thoughts of another successful growing season?

Have you decided what to plant?

I have.

I want to plant blueberries.  I have heard testimonies from Aitkin gardeners on their successes and failures on this beloved plant.  I thought, maybe we’d better check out how to properly choose and grow these delightful, delicious, nutritious plants.

Are you with me!

Don’t get discouraged as blueberry plants grow slowly.  One question continuously asked is; Why my blueberries don’t bear fruit? 

Biggest reason is the fruit grows on 1-year old branches, and if you don’t prune them you probably don’t have enough 1-year old branches.  We will go into pruning later in this article.

Here is some basic information from the UMN Extension.  To check out more in-depth and detailed information on blueberries for zone 3 and 4, go to:

 https://extension.umn.edu/fruit/growing-blueberries-home-garden

Basic information:

It takes a blueberry bush about 10 years to reach mature size, but this also means they will live a long, long time.

It will be 2 or 3 years before you start getting large harvests. 

Buy two or more varieties for cross pollination.

Care through the seasons

    • March—Prune bushes before new growth begins, after coldest weather has passed.

• April, May—Plant new blueberry bushes.

• May, June—Apply mulch for growing season.

• July—Harvest.

• July through September—Apply soil amendments.

• September, October—Apply mulch for winter protection and enjoy fall color.

• November, December—Put fencing around plants to keep out rabbits.

Preparing:

Blueberry plants require acidic soil (pH 4.0 to 5.0) that is well-drained, loose and high in organic matter. Most garden soils in Minnesota have higher pH and must be amended.

If pH is too high, the growth of the plant is slowed down, the leaves discolor, and the plant may die.  You’ll also experience poor fruit production.  Please note that soil amendments applied don’t ‘fix’ this in one season as they don’t work quickly enough. UMN recommendations for a temporary solution includes:

• Spray plants with a foliar chelated iron fertilizer.

• Spray new leaves as they emerge.

• Keep the plants mulched with a few inches of oak leaf or pine needle mulch to help maintain soil acidity.

• Use a fertilizer that includes elemental sulfur.

• Test and monitor soil pH to stay ahead of this problem. Simple and inexpensive soil pH test kits are available online and at many garden centers. Or have your soil tested by the UMN Soil testing laboratory

• Selecting Plants: 

Be sure to check the labels of plants!  Aitkin County is in zone 3…BUT…the CITY of Aitkin is a paradox as it is a zone 4, due to the convergence of two rivers and city cement/bricks etc.  You lucky people!  For the rest of us in the lovely country area, zone 3 - it is!  If buying plants locally, find potted plants that are at least two or three years old.

Planting:

Full sun is required, although some partial shade can be tolerated. But don’t overdo the shade as flower blossoms/fruit do not produced well. Fewer blossoms … less fruit.

At planting, prune only to remove any broken, dead or dying parts of branches.  After the first year, prune the bushes annually in the early spring before growth starts.

The University of Minnesota’s fruit breeding program developed varieties perfect for us!   Check out their website for a complete listing of varieties for our zone:  https://extension.umn.edu/fruit/growing-blueberries-home-garden

University of Minnesota bred varieties’ average yield is based on data collected in east central Minnesota from mature plants, planted in full sun with other varieties, and watered regularly.  Planting at least two varieties is best, as more berries of larger size will be produced.

Janice Hasselius, Aitkin, is a UMN Extension Emertris Master Gardener, Aitkin County Extension.

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