No other berry crop has gained the popularity of the blueberry. I am glad it has earned this distinction because blueberries are actually pretty easy to grow if you provide them with some timely attention.
Once they are established some late winter pruning and fertilization is all you need to do to keep them in production.
Sure, you need to start out right if you want to have productive bushes for the next 20 years, but once established, all the chores are straight forward.
Site your blueberry patch out in the full sun and then take some soil samples to determine the soil pH. Blueberries like acid soil, which is reflected as a low pH, about 4.5-5, ideally; if the pH is too high then the plant cannot take in iron and other trace elements.
Blueberries demand good drainage, too, so for some, a series of raised beds with amended soil may be necessary, especially if you have compacted clay soils with an alkaline pH.
In order to achieve and maintain acid soil use garden sulfur and peat as soil amendments at planting; use pine straw as mulch from year to year; and fertilize with products that have an acidifying effect. The conventional fertilizer for blueberries has always been ammonium sulfate; for the organic gardener you can deliver nitrogen and maintain a low pH by using fish meal or cottonseed meal, instead.
Recommended varieties for Kentuckiana include my all time favorite Blue Ray. Blue Ray is our earliest variety, sometimes ripening as early as late May. Blue Crop comes on next followed by Collins and Jersey.
The most recent additions to the patch are from the updated recommendations out of the University of Kentucky: Duke, Patriot and Elliot are still young but should be producing in earnest by next year. No matter what you choose you will get higher yields if you have more than one plant. Cross pollination increases yield substantially.
If you don’t have all of the same variety, be mindful of early-, mid- and late-season bloomers so complimentary varieties can indeed cross-pollinate.
Once the berries are planted, be sure to keep them moist until they are established; this may take several summers (and irrigate during cycles of drought).
You will do much better if you water and fertilize at the right time. The fertilization schedule for newly planted blueberries starts six weeks after planting; then again six weeks after that.
Since most people are not planting 100 foot rows, (the recommendation is one pound ammonium sulfate per 100 foot row), lightly sprinkle the fertilizer in the drip line of the plant.
If you have blueberries that have been in the ground for over a year, your fertilization schedule is a little different.
The first round comes in late February when some extra nitrogen helps to coax the plant into action; the second round takes place at bloom time. A third round, which I forego, can also be applied six weeks later.
I also opt to use cottonseed meal instead of ammonium sulfate which requires that I use a bit more meal in each application.
Once we have the soil pH and fertility requirements met, then we need to get into the habit of thinning and pruning our bushes every late winter. Once the shrub is about five years old, it will begin to develop woody stems that actually decrease in productivity as they age.
Basically, stems that begin to loose their red color and grow to about the diameter of a quarter, they are past peak.
You will encourage new vigorous growth and better fruit set on the most productive branches if you remove the old wood. And, trust me on this, it is much easier to remove a few each year than it is to catch up with your pruning after neglecting it for a couple of years.
Over time, the shrubs can get very thick, which makes for one heck of a pruning chore.