Q. We are planting our blueberries for the fourth and final attempt. They do not thrive and eventually die. What are we doing wrong?
Sharon from Youngstown
A. Blueberries are much different than other berry plants. They have different pests, diseases, growth habit – and most importantly, soil requirements
The first thing any gardener wants to do before planting blueberries is to test the soil and make changes based on the results.
A high pH (a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil) is by far the most common problem for those wanting to grow blueberries. Blueberries need a low pH (acid).
Most of our soils in the yard or garden are probably a pH of 6.0-6.5, sometimes a little lower. Blueberries require a much lower pH of 4.5-5.0.
The soil pH can be changed by simply adding peat moss (one cubic foot) to the backfill when planting.
This does not guarantee the pH will be lowered to the proper level, though.
Soil sulfur (mostly sold as pelletized elemental sulfur) may also be used to lower the pH. The amount depends on the current pH of the soil.
Lowering the pH the year before planting would be the best bet.
You must keep the pH low for the life of the berry plant. This may mean adding soil sulfur every year or two, depending on your soil test.
Next, blueberries require lots of organic matter in the soil. You can increase organic matter with composted plant materials or manure. Purchased topsoil is not compost.
Finally, blueberries have shallow roots, but do not like wet roots. So raised beds are best. You can build a raised bed, or simply mound the soil to make one.
Good drainage is paramount. Although they do not like wet roots, they still need water. Most growers find soaker hoses useful to keep the plants watered during summer months.
Planting several different varieties can lengthen the ripening season for more fresh berries instead of having to pick all at once.
For a detailed factsheet, including varieties to choose for your garden, visit http://go.osu.edu/Blueberry.
Eric Barrett is the OSU Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the Mahoning County office in Canfield. To contact the office: 330-533-5538