If Your Blueberries are Struggling…
A couple years ago, our blueberry production was way off. The 40 plants at the upper level looked to be struggling. A few didn’t make it. The blueberry production was fantastic. The next year, not so great. Was it the blueberry fertilizer, or was it the birds?
Turns out it was the birds. That year, we removed the protective mesh and the birds demolished most of our early harvest. #LessonLearned.
Bird Netting for Protecting Blueberries from Birds
Bird netting definitely works to protect your blueberries from the birds. It works. We had a wonderful and ongoing supply of fresh blueberries that summer with lots in the freezer to last all winter too..
But the next year we found a bird horribly entangled in the protective mesh. We were able to finally free it… thankful to have found it soon enough, else it surely would’ve died there. So we removed the mesh. We love the birds and animals, so frankly, we’d rather miss our blueberries than cause a bird to die. Lesson learned now we implement some better solutions next.
But back to the year our blueberries were struggling. Our newer plantings near the cabin, were doing OK, but they too were off from the previous year. We’d followed all instructions by not planting too deep, using back fill laced with lovely leaf compost and peat moss and covered with a generous layer of weed blocking fabric and pine needles. We kept everything well watered-but not too wet.
We couldn’t figure out the problem. Luckily, we were able to invite our local Surry County Ag Extension agents, Wythe Morris and Joanna Radford to come look at our situation. And we are so glad they did!
The first problem Wythe identified was that we’d likely over acidified our soil around the blueberries. We knew that pine needles were acidic, and we knew that blueberries like more acidic soil. What we didn’t know was that non degraded pine needles are highly acidic and, according to Wythe, they can take the soil down to a hazardous pH level.
If you’re not sure of the condition of your soil, you might want to read this article.
We’d also made the mistake of covering over the root area with fabric that blocked new growth from emerging around the base. In this next video, Wythe explains how and when to use a specific fertilizer on blueberries.
Natural Solutions for Nourishing Plants
We’re not keen on non-organic chemicals so in the videos that follow, you’ll see where we make up our own version of sulfur and nitrogen amendments. These included Milorganite, a sometimes misunderstood fertilizer, which we’ve written about before, not only with great benefit to our plants, but also with the added benefit of serving as a deer repellent.
After implementing these 3 simple steps, our bushes were loaded with blooms and the pollinators were all over them. We enjoyed a bountiful harvest and the extras were frozen and literally lasted us all winter. We’re off our numbers this year because we removed the bird netting. But we’re tackling that issue with other solutions and look forward to a better late summer harvest. We hope that by sharing these techniques, everyone who wants to grow better blueberries will reap the benefit of our boots on the ground experience.
3 Steps to Better Blueberries
- Cut fabric for opening around drip line of plant to allow suckers to emerge. Suckers are good! They will bear future new fruit… AND they can be clipped and rooted to make new plants!
- Apply compost (rotted leaf is best) up to 4 inches up the stem.
- Apply two batches of fertilizer at bud break and 6 weeks later.
We use Milorganite fertilizer with a 5-2-0 of 5% Nitrogen, 2% Phosphorus and 0% Potassium. Milorganite is also an effective deer repellent.
We also used the Burpee Organic Azalea, Camellia, and Rhododendron Plant Food to mix in with the Milorganite, as you will see below.
If you use pine needles, be sure they are mostly decomposed, so that you don’t over-acidify your soil.
Learn more of the details by watching these three videos.
Your Local Ag Extension Office – a Free Resource
Remember to contact your local agriculture extension office when you have issues that you can’t figure out. Our tax dollars pay for these services and all the agents we’ve ever encountered are glad to come out and take a look and offer advice and feedback.
January 4th, 2016 – Our county Ag Extension agent (Wythe Morris) explains how and when to fertilize our blueberry bushes.
February 23rd, 2016 – First Application
We used the Burpee Organic Azalea, Camellia, and Rhododendron Plant Food to mix in with the Milorganite. But we couldn’t find that on Amazon or Burpee to link here for you, so another good one is by Jobe.
March 30, 2016 – Adding fertilizer Mix
On this video we used the Espoma Soil Acidifier containing 30% Sulfur mixed in one part to three parts of Milorganite.
But remember to check your soil. Not only can it save you money on soil amendments, it can save you grief in low producing plants.
Keep on growing!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson