This photograph was taken this afternoon at the Tougas Family Farm in Northboro, Mass. I didn't take this photo - Sonia Schloemann did. She is the "fruit specialist" who gave the lecture today on how to grow blueberries. Her lecture included everything from soil, pests, and disease, and finished with an hour outside, pruning mature blueberry bushes. What a beautiful farm this is! I have every intention of bringing James and Jamie back with me when it's time to "pick-your-own" blueberries.
I was tempted to skip this seminar. Attending the seminar meant getting out the door by 9:00 a.m., not that that's early. I knew it would be pretty cold, as we had some new snow last night - just a dusting. Thankfully, I came to my senses (YOLO!) and got myself out to Northboro.
I learned a lot - beginning with the fact that I should have parted with a little more cash and purchased more mature bushes instead of the cheaper, younger plants. I found out today that I'll be waiting 4-5 years for blueberries. Oh well. It gives me more time to do all the other things I'm going to need to do, as well as begin other projects.
I sent soil samples to UMass on Thursday, March 14. The soil pH for blueberries needs to be at around 5. I added elemental sulfur (pelletized) in October. Hopefully, this has helped to lower the pH.
Blueberry Hedge - Stats
- 12 bushes, planted in full sun on October 6, 2012
- Bushes 1-5 were originally purchased in 2001. Unknown varieties. Had to be transplanted to a better location.
- Bushes 6-12 include the following varieties: 6 - "Bluejay", 7 - "Bluecrop", 8 - "Elliot", 9 - "Bluejay", 10 - "Spartan", 11 - "Jersey", and 12 - "Jersey".
- Blueberries like soil that's high in organic matter - about 5% (SOM)
- Soil pH sould be between 4.5 and 5.5 - aim for 5
- Need full sun and access to water (2inches per week)
- Mulch with aged saw dust, compost, wood chips or peat moss. Must be aged for 1 year, or can harm plants.
- Plant bushes 4-6 feet apart, rows 8-10 feet apart. Plant 3-4 feet away from a fence.
- Use pelletized elemental sulfur to lower pH.
- Fertilizer - use ammonium sulfate, NOT alluminum sulfate. Be careful here!
- Yellow leaves indicate an iron deficiency and high pH.
- Do not need to fertilize the first year; second year - use ammonium sulfate, 2 oz. per bush; mature plantings - use ammonium sulfate, 8 oz. per bush or 1/2 lb. cottonseed meal per bush.
- Fertilize in spring or early summer, BEFORE JULY 4.
- Different varieties are needed for cross-pollination.
- Encourage pollinating insects - especially bumble bees. Make nesting blocks for bees, have flowers available from April through October.
- Pests - Blueberry maggot: - put out yellow sticky traps, but not near the plants! Use one trap per bush, put in place before fruit ripens.
- Pests - Japanese beetles - treat soil for grubs in May/early June and again in August.
- Diseases - Botrytis Blight and Mummy berry - dried berries provide innoculant for next year. Problem begins during bloom, and will need a fungicide. Prune well to maximize light and air circulation. Sanitation is important, too - cover mummy berries with mulch or rake up.
- Avoid winter injury by not fertilizing after July 4.
- Birds - netting is the best way to control them. Put it in place before there is fruit. Make sure netting goes all the way to the ground.
- Remove canes older than 5-8 years, at the base. These are thick and look old. Use a saw.
- Keep 6-10 canes of mixed ages.
- Keep only 2-3 best new canes each year.
- Open the interior of the bush to let in sunlight and improve air circulation.
- Remove any broken or weak canes - anything thinner than a pencil.
- Cut 1/3 of thin, new canes to strengthen them - otherwise they will bend when fruit grows.
- Remove branches close to the ground (no one wants to pick the berries low to the ground)
- For old bushes that haven't been pruned: remove 1/3 of the bush for 3 years.
- Cut out all dead wood - berry growth is on "new" growth.
- Ideal time to prune blueberries is in March.