Blueberries aren’t particularly difficult to take care of, but they do require a little extra care and attention. To grow a healthy plant, you need to pay extra attention to a few things, including fertilizer.
Fertilizing blueberries isn’t as straightforward as you might think, but it’s something that anyone can learn to do. Here’s everything you need to know to fertilize and grow your own blueberry bushes.
Table of Contents
It Starts with Planting
To grow your own fresh blueberries, fertilizer is important. But even the best fertilizer won’t make up for improper planting conditions. Making sure your blueberries are in the right place is key to their survival.
Blueberries prefer a lot of sunshine. They can tolerate some shade in the evenings but should be in direct sunlight most of the day.
These plants also need soil that drains well. They like moist roots while actively growing and can be picky about their soil. Preparing soil correcting (and later fertilizing it correctly) is a key to growing these bushes.
Blueberries prefer acidic soil. If the soil isn’t quite right, it’s best to make changes and add amendments the year before you plan to plant.
You should plant blueberry bushes in the spring or fall, individually up to six feet apart. If you have a lot of space, you can grow them in rows, keeping them about two feet apart with eight feet between each row.
If you don’t live in an environment suitable for these conditions, you can always choose to grow blueberries in a raised bed or container. In some ways, this might be a little easier because you have more control of the soil and can monitor it more closely.
In most areas, planting blueberry bushes is safe in the fall or spring. You can plant them 2 or 2.5 feet apart to form solid rows, but make sure the rows are at least eight feet apart. If you want to plant them individually, space them up to six feet apart.
Blueberries usually do better with mulch as it helps conserve moisture and prevents weed growth.
Soil pH is very important for blueberries and something you should keep in mind when choosing a fertilizer. Blueberries need a very acidic pH, ranging between 4.5 and 5.2. Most garden soils range between 6 and 7 on the pH scale, so you might have a bit of work to get to the soil where it needs to be.
Testing the pH is the only way to make sure it’s right. You can do this with a testing probe. Chances are your soil will be too alkaline, and you will need to lower our soil’s pH. To do this, add chelated iron, soil sulfur, or aluminum sulfate.
Soil sulfur is really effective, but it works slowly. Chelated iron and aluminum sulfate work faster, but their effects don’t last as long and you may have to reapply them every few weeks or so.
If you prefer a more natural method, adding compost to the soil usually does the trick, but it may take a little longer to see results.
Though unlikely, you may need to raise the pH of your soil. In this case, look for a soil amendment with limestone.
How to Fertilize Blueberries
Now that you have your blueberries planted and soil that’s the right pH, it’s time to talk about fertilizing. How and when you fertilize your blueberry bushes depends on how old the plant is.
For young plants less than a year old, wait until you start to see new growth. This usually occurs in the first spring. Until you know the plant is actively growing, it doesn’t need fertilizer. Fertilizer can be counterproductive if you use it before the plant is ready. Looking for signs of new growth is important.
At this point, your plant is still young and, if you spent time preparing the soil, you don’t need to worry about pH in the fertilizer quite yet. Using an organic fertilizer at this stage is a good choice.
When your blueberry bush reaches two years old, use an acid-formulating fertilizer to maintain the soil pH. Some organic plant foods work great or choose something meant for acid-loving plants like azaleas.
More specifically, look for a fertilizer that includes sulfur or iron, which helps maintain the acidic pH your blueberries need. And NPK of 10-5-5 is ideal. But, keep in mind that blueberries are sensitive, and over fertilizing can hurt them. Follow the instructions on the package very carefully.
When the plant is young, place the fertilizer under the drip line. Because the plant is still just getting established, this is the area where most of the feeder roots are. After the third year, spread the fertilizer both under and around the bushes to make sure all the roots get the nutrients.
Add fertilizer in early spring as this is when the plant begins actively growing and again in late spring to sustain it throughout the summer.
Watering blueberries properly is also important if you want them to be healthy and deliver quality fruit. Blueberries prefer constantly moist soil, but never wet or soggy as this can cause root rot.
Blueberries also have shallow roots, so it’s easy for them to dry out in hot, dry climates. This is one reason why using mulch is a good idea.
Right after you plant and apply fertilizer, soak the soil well. This ensures that the nutrients get into the soil where the roots can use them to establish healthy growth.
In most cases, you won’t have to water your new blueberry bushes every day. Water as needed around rainfall. And remember, it’s better to thoroughly soak the roots every so often than to water lightly every day.
Blueberry bushes go dormant in the winter, so there’s no need to water as often or fertilize. Overwatering in the winter is common and might kill the plant.
Other Tips and Tricks
Blueberries take a little extra care, but it’s nothing too complicated, once you know what you’re doing. Here are some tips and tricks to make sure you give your blueberry bushes exactly what they need to thrive.
- Make sure the soil has the appropriate pH before planting. This will save you a lot of aggravation later on.
- Water your blueberries when the rainfall isn’t sufficient, keeping them moist but not wet. Be especially careful not to overwater young plants, and cut back watering significantly in the winter.
- Add about a two-inch layer of mulch to help keep moisture in, but do not place it against the base of the bush, only on the ground.
- Be very careful not to over-fertilize and blueberries are easily damaged. Read and follow the instructions carefully.
- After the third season, start using fertilizer to feed the plant and maintain the proper pH.
- Organic fertilizer is often a good choice because it is not as harsh.
Worth the Effort
Blueberries aren’t something that you can plant and expect to thrive on minimal care, but they’re not so complicated that they’re hard to take care of. Growing blueberries takes a little time and attention, but it’s definitely something that anyone can do.
Fertilizing blueberries is essential for their success. Remember, choose something with an NPK around 10-5-5 once your plants are established because this not only feeds the plants but also helps you maintain the correct pH.
When first planting, rich organic fertilizer is best because you don’t have to worry about amending the soil if you took the time to prepare it properly.
It’s important to remember that blueberries can be picky, so fertilizer alone isn’t enough to ensure proper growth. Establishing healthy blueberry plants starts with the right soil and continues with watering properly and adding the right fertilizer at the right time.
In the end, you’ll have a beautiful, thriving blueberry plant with sweet-tasting fruit to enjoy. Getting there is a bit of an investment, but it’s worth it in the end.