Blueberries are a tasty and versatile berry high in vitamins and antioxidants and wonderfully sweet. Given the berry’s appeal and the expanding popularity of planting it in the home garden, it’s no wonder growers have questions like when to fertilize blueberries or what is the ideal blueberry fertilizer?
In horticulture, fertilization involves adding critical nutrients to the soil to support the plant and ensure it thrives. Standard practices for fertilizing vary from plant to plant; however, they are often centered around providing a specific nutrient or group of chemicals such as potassium, phosphorus, chloride, calcium, magnesium, or nitrate to aid plant growth and fruiting.
Fertilizing the blueberry varieties in your home garden results in healthier bushes and a higher yield of berries, so it’s critical to know the best time to fertilize blueberry bushes and what to use.
The Perfect Time to Apply Blueberry Fertilizer
Blueberries are in the Vaccinium genus of flowering, fruiting shrubs, including the bilberry, cranberry, and lingonberry. Blueberries or huckleberries which are related are native to North America, the country of their national origin.
The pointy, oblong leaves of blueberry bushes feel leathery to touch and turn a beautiful scarlet color in the fall. The blossoms bloom in late spring in clusters of little white bell-shaped blooms, producing highly delectable berries that develop from green to a rich purple-blue color at maturity.
It’s easy to transplant a bare-root blueberry bush or even tackle starting blueberries from seed, although it will take longer to yield delicious fruit.
Blueberry bushes are easy to plant and produce fruits considered a healthy superfood. The ideal blueberry bush companion plants are other blueberry bushes or azaleas. Plant them directly in your garden beds, grow them as shrubs in your yard, or keep them in beautiful pots on your patio to offer a splash of color. Blueberries best grow in a sunny place with acidic soil.
Best Time to Fertilize Blueberry Bushes
Understanding the best time to fertilize blueberries ensures your bushes get the nutrients they require from fertilizer applications at the correct time, producing a large harvest of ripe fruit.
Early in the spring, before leaves fully grow in, fertilization is advised for all varieties of blueberry bushes, from rabbiteye blueberries to highbush blueberries or the southern highbush. Fertilizing at this time allows the blueberry’s roots to absorb the fertilizer before it reaches its active growth stage in the late summer.
Feed new plants once in early spring and once in late spring. For more specific support for your U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone, contact your local cooperative extension service with questions.
How and When to Fertilize Blueberries
After learning when to fertilize blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum), growers must choose the best fertilizer for blueberries to ensure optimum performance. Blueberries prefer more acidic soil, so use a potent acid fertilizer to grow your blueberries.
When seeking a high acidity blueberry bush fertilizer, look for fertilizers containing ammonium sulfate or sulfur-coated urea, as the pH of these is usually lower. Utilize fertilizers richer in nitrogen, but avoid using nitrate-containing fertilizers like calcium nitrate or chloride, as nitrates destroy some blueberry plants.
It’s possible to mix your own blueberry fertilizer using organic ingredients instead of chemicals.
Fertilization is most successful when based on soil testing. Identify what your blueberry plants lack and mix the above ingredients to make up for any deficiency. Apply fertilizer by incorporating it into the irrigation water for your plants or placing it directly around the base of the plant.
Before planting blueberry seeds, freeze them on a flat plate with damp sphagnum moss for 90 days. Sprinkle the seeds over the moss, gently cover them, wrap the entire tray with newspaper, and set it in a place with a constant temperature of 60-70℉.
Keep the moss moist, and expect to see seedlings in about a month. Remove the newspaper and set the seedlings in a dish in bright, indirect light until they reach a few inches tall. Keep your seedlings moist in a damp mix of peat moss, potting soil, and sand until you’re ready for transplanting to the garden.
While transplanting your seedlings, be careful not to disrupt the shallow roots. Plant blueberry bushes 4-5 feet apart in a row, with adjacent rows 9-10 feet apart to allow enough room for picking. To settle the earth and plug any air holes around the root ball, water the seedlings in immediately.
Caring for Blueberry Plants During the Growing Season
Blueberry bushes demand 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day and require an acidic soil pH of 4.0 to 4.8 to absorb water and nutrition while fruiting. Purchase or prepare a blueberry-friendly potting soil mix made for acidity-loving plants like blueberries, azaleas, and the rhododendron. A soil test may be necessary to ensure your blueberry plants thrive.
Because blueberries’ root system is short and dries rapidly, they require a lot of water and prefer sandy, well-draining soil. Keep the soil moist, not saturated, and clear of other organic matter. A layer of peat moss with a topping of bark mulch or sawdust helps keep moisture in the soil to sustain the root ball.
Blueberry bushes grow quite large but do not prune them the first year through the third year. Pruning blueberry bushes at the right time ensures you’ll see increased growth after you trim them the fourth year.
Blueberry bushes are self-pollinating to some extent, though cross-pollination by a second variety produces larger berries. Bees and the wind aid cross-pollination, yet the bushes must be close together to be effective.
Blueberry bushes are highly productive and rewarding to grow in the home garden. Though they require acidic soil and careful fertilizing, they are a fun project suitable for most gardeners. The resulting fruits are well known for their copious health benefits and used in everything from smoothies to sweets.
Crafting blueberry fertilizer based on your specific soil test results is more labor-intensive, but it provides total control over what you put in your garden and the levels of each component.
Alternatively, commercial blueberry fertilizers are specially crafted to support blueberry bushes and are a convenient and quick method to provide your plants with good baseline nutrition and growing conditions.
Decide when to fertilize blueberries based on your USDA zone and the stage your blueberries are at in their life cycle. With a little knowledge, it’s easy to be prepared once the best time to fertilize blueberry bushes arrives.
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