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Recent research on the health benefits of fruits has shown that blueberries are one of the most nutritious fruits available. If you're only going to eat one fruit, it should be blueberries. Blueberries can be eaten fresh or in pies, frozen for use in pancakes or muffins, dried and used in recipes instead of raisins, or made into purees, syrup or jam. This attractive fruit is easy to grow and harvest, and is available in cold hardy varieties which extend the growing range from zones 4 through 9.
If you live in an area where the soil is naturally acidic, you've already met the most important requirement for successful blueberry culture. Blueberries will grow in soil with a pH range of 4.0 to 6.0, but prefer 4.5 to 5.6. If your soil is too alkaline, add soil sulfur and peat to lower the pH. A general rule is that approximatley 25 pounds of sulfur spread over 1000 square feet (20 feet x 50 feet) will lower the soil pH by one point (for example, from 6.0 to 5.0). Commercial soil acidifers are also available. Blueberries grow well in soil with lots of organic matter. Be sure the area is well-drained. The addition of peat (1:3 ratio) will improve soils that have a high clay content and poor drainage.
Dwarf blueberry bushes, which grow just two feet high, are perfect for containers on a patio or deck. Standard bushes can be planted as a bountiful hedge. A sunny location is preferable, although blueberries will produce fruit in partial shade. Space standard sized bushes approximately six feet apart. For hedges, space four feet apart. Prune the plants back one third at planting. Do not fertilize at planting and take care not to plant the bushes too deep. Blueberries have shallow roots and require a constant supply of moisture. Mulch well to prevent root damage and water regularly in hot, dry weather. Pine needles make an excellent mulch for blueberries.
Do not allow your newly planted bushes to bear fruit the first year. Pick off all the blossoms in spring and fertilize with a balanced blend of organic nutrients or approximately one half cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per bush. Allow your one year bushes to bear approximately one pint of berries (~30). This limited pruning will produce healthier bushes that will be more productive in later years. A healthy bush should produce two or three new shoots each year from the base of the plant. A well cared for six year old bush can produce up to 10 quarts of berries. Mature bushes should receive approximately one pound of fertilizer over the entire growing season.
Healthy blueberries bushes that are maintained in vigorous condition and grown under sanitary conditons in an ideal location can likely be grown without the use of sprays. Generally, removing old leaves, berries, and prunings from around the bushes and controlling weeds will ensure sanitary conditions. Large insect pests can be handpicked. The type of insect damage may vary from zone 4 through 9. You should consult local growers or your county agricultural extension representative to assist you in identifying any insect pests on your berries.
The most effective way to prevent damage to fruit by birds is with netting. As soon as the first berries begin to ripen, place the netting over the bushes.