Blueberries are a very popular fruit in the United States because of their unique flavor, small edible seeds, and ease of preparation. Blueberries can be eaten fresh or used for jelly, jam, pies, pastries, or juice. Blueberry fruit is also low in calories and sodium, contains no cholesterol, and is a source of fiber. A major constituent of the fiber is pectin, known for its ability to lower blood cholesterol. Blueberries contain measurable quantities of ellagic acid, which has inhibiting effects on chemically induced cancer in laboratory studies. Blueberry juice also contains a compound that prevents bacteria from anchoring themselves to the bladder, thereby helping to prevent urinary tract infections.
Blueberries could make a good fruit crop for home gardens since they require small space. At present, blueberry plants are not common in home plantings because the plants require highly acidic soil conditions for best results. Few backyard soils in Ohio are naturally acidic enough to grow quality blueberries. The grower of blueberries must, therefore, make extra effort to acidify the soil before plant establishment. Then, the acidity level must be maintained over the life of the planting. Due to the special concerns associated with the rather demanding soil requirements of growing the crop, the soil must be amended with organic matter and the pH must be corrected before proceeding to establish the planting.
Blueberry plants begin to produce fruit in the third season; however, they do not become fully productive for about six years (Figure 1). Once in production, it is necessary to protect the fruit from loss to birds.
At planting, dig a hole 18 inches deep and 18 inches wide and mix 1 cubic foot of peat moss with top soil until the hole is filled 4 inches from the top. Set the plant and cover the roots with the remaining peat-soil mix. In heavy soils, an equal amount of peat can be mixed with an equal amount of soil. Set plants 5 feet apart with rows 10 feet apart. Apply 4 inches of sawdust or wood-chip mulch in a 2 feet wide band after planting, and maintain a 4 inch depth and 4 feet band over the life of the planting.
Fertilizers for blueberry production are best applied using soil test results as a guide. At planting, apply 1/2 to 2/3 pound of ammonium sulfate (or 10 to 16 ounces of 10-10-10) per 100 feet of row 4 weeks after planting. Keep fertilizer at least 6 inches away from plant.
In the second through twelfth years, apply 1 to 1.5 pounds of ammonium sulfate (2 to 3 pounds of 10-10-10) per 100 feet of row each year for fertility and acidity maintenance. Apply 0.5 pound of the ammonium sulfate at bloom, and the remaining 0.5 pound 4 to 6 weeks later. If plant leaves become chlorotic, apply 2 to 3 ounces of ferrous sulfate or iron chelate around the base of the plants each year.
Blueberry bushes have very shallow root systems and are very sensitive to water fluctuations. They need at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week. In dry seasons, supplemental watering is essential to obtain good yields of high quality products. However, do not apply water after early September unless soil is very dry
Blueberry plants normally do not need to be pruned for the first three years. Remove blossoms that appear in the year of planting and second year after planting to stimulate vigorous growth.
It is important to know the anatomy of a blueberry bush before attempting to prune blueberries (Figure 2). During the fourth year, the dormant plants should be pruned in mid-March. At this time, remove dead and weak branches and thin, terminal wood with small buds. Prune interior crossing branches to admit light to the center of the plant.
Generous use of mulches like sawdust or peat moss will help control weeds, conserve moisture, and keep roots cool. Increased organic matter from decomposing mulch will help improve soil structure and nutrient uptake of blueberry bush. Replenish mulch as needed to keep the mulch depth at 2 to 4 inches.
Insects and Diseases
Some potential insect problems in blueberries include blueberry tip borer, plum curculio, cranberry fruit worm, and cherry fruitworm. Disease problems include mummy berry, powdery mildew, twig blights, botrytis blossom blight, leaf spots, and cane gall. For more information about growing blueberries, obtain a copy from your Extension office of Bulletin 591, "Growing and Using Fruit at Home" and Bulletin 780, "Controlling Disease and Insects in Home Fruit Planting."
What are the benefits of blueberries
Blueberries are high in vitamin C and apparently the pigment in the skin is a powerful antioxidant. Enjoying them as part of your normal diet will help protect you against cancer and heart disease and it has also been proven that they can protect you against vision loss.
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