When I began gardening, one of my first goals was to plant blueberries. Blueberries are one of the most healthy fruits you can eat, they are expensive to buy at the grocery store, and they simply looked like so much fun to pick!
Growing blueberries is much simpler than you would think. All the work — which is minor in comparison to other plants — comes in the first year. After their first season, blueberries are very low-maintenance and will produce buckets full within a couple of years!
Before I planted my first bushes in the ground, I did extensive research. Pulling from that knowledge, my gardening experience with my own 5-year-old blueberry bushes, and experiences of others, I’ve compiled the most common beginner mistakes in growing blueberries and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Only planting one blueberry bush
Most blueberries are not self-pollinating, which means they need at least two different varieties to pollinate one another and produce berries. In other words, if you only plant one bush, you’ll get beautiful flowers but no fruit.
The minimum is two, but at least three will get you the best results. I chose to purchase five different cultivars, and I’ve had outstanding yields.
Mistake #2: Not checking the soil before planting your blueberries
Most garden plants tolerate a variety of pH levels in the soil, but this is not the case with blueberries. Blueberry bushes must have acidic soil — anywhere between 4.0 and 5.0. Many garden areas are acidic naturally, but I wouldn’t recommend hoping for the best. Blueberry bushes will last years, if not decades, and it’s worth your time to start them out right.
If your soil is not acidic, you can make plans to amend the soil with sulfur; however, it will take time for the soil’s pH to change. If you want to get your blueberry bushes in the ground this season, I recommend building a raised bed or planting them in large containers.
Even if your soil is acidic, it’s a good idea to amend the planting area with peat moss, pine needles, and coffee grounds (many coffee places, including Starbucks, will give you their used coffee grounds for free). Some people recommend the growing medium to contain 60-80% of these materials, with the remaining being native soil. When I began, I added about 50% pine needles and wood chips and had good success in my naturally acidic soil.
(Tip: if using wood chips, do NOT use fresh wood chips; this will tie up nitrogen your bushes need to grow. Instead, use chips that have been sitting for a few months or more.)
Mistake #3: Not mulching your blueberry bed
Blueberries have shallow root systems, meaning they will dry out if a thick mulch isn’t used to protect from evaporation. Plus, this mulch will help retain moisture already present in the soil from which the blueberry roots can draw. I cover my beds with 4 inches of wood chips in both the spring and the fall.
Another benefit mulch has is preventing weed growth. Again, being shallow rooted, blueberry bushes will suffer from competition for water and nutrients.
Related: I talk more about growing blueberries in this episode of my podcast: Growing Blueberries: Tips for Beginners & 4 Mistakes to Avoid
Mistake #4: Planting your blueberries in a poorly-drained location
Blueberries do not like “wet feet,” so I hear. My garden area is typically not well-drained, but I haven’t had any problems. One reason, I believe, goes back to how much organic matter (pine needles and wood chips) I added to the soil to begin with, in addition to the thick layer of mulch. These steps I believe prevent my normally wet soil from causing any problems for my bushes.
Still, making sure your blueberry bed is well-draining – or at the very least, well-amended – is important for the future growth of your bushes. Remember, these are not annual crops. Where you choose to plant your bushes the first year makes all the difference, and unless you make an effort to relocate them (which I wouldn’t recommend), where you plant them is where they will stay.
Bonus Tip: (Click to view 1-minute video)
New to Journey with Jill? My name is Jill McSheehy. I live in Arkansas and write about my faith and my garden. I also host the Beginner’s Garden Podcast. (Click here to check it out!)
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