Growing Blueberries in Containers Organically
WHICH VARIETY– Be aware of Chill Hour requirements (100-500 hours appropriate for Inland Empire). Look for Southern Highbush varieties like:
Sunshine Blue (150), Jewel (200), Misty (200), O’Neal (200), Emerald (250)) Sharpblue ( 200), Star (400)Southmoon (300), Jubillee (500).
WHICH CONTAINER – To establish a plant over time, 15 gallon containers and above are the best. Make sure drainage holes are adequate as good drainage is a must. Nurseries sell 15 gallon tree pots for a few dollars. Whiskey barrels and 20 gallon handled buckets work well. You will have to drill about 3-4 one and a half in holes in the bottom of buckets. If you have gopher issues in your area add a piece of wire mesh cloth to cover holes and prevent entry through the bottom.
BEST SITE – Full morning sun, afternoon shading in the hottest inland empire locations. Shade cloth when afternoon temperatures reach 90 degrees. Six hours of full sun is best.
PREPARING SOIL– Blueberries have very specific soil requirements to stay healthy and produce good crops. Soil acidity is key, with a 4.5-5.5 pH range being ideal. Blueberry roots cannot absorb nutrients from the soil unless this condition is maintained while uncorrected pH eventually leads to crop failure. Chlorosis is identified by yellowing of leaves with veins remaining a dark green. This change in leaf appearance tells you that the plant is unable to take in enough iron and other essential nutrients because the soil acid content is not within that ideal range. A thick layer of coffee grounds is the quickest way to lower soil acidity levels and you will be on your way to a healthier plant. To insure the best possible conditions for your new blueberry bush, premix your soil one to two months in advance of planting. Soil sulfur takes a few month to take effect. A note about trying to grow blueberries in any clay soil, DON’T DO IT! I can tell you from experience that you will be disappointed if you decide to plant these bushes in ground with clay soil. They are plants with a very primative root system, not a lot of root hairs like a tomato plant. Blueberry’s roots are relatively shallow. They don’t want to look too far for their nutrients. So the zone where their roots live needs to be fast draining, light and well aerated. Root rot is also a real problem for blueberry bushes. They like their water but cannot be left drowning in it. Containers are a great alternative given the growing conditions in South Redlands. Now if you are blessed to have the fast draining, loamy soil in North Redlands go for planting in the ground, your bushes will be just fine.
5 PART MIX
OPTION #1 (Use if planting more than 4 blueberry bushes)
1-2 shovels Perilite, 1/3 Peat moss, 1/3 compost, 1/3 organic potting soil, and handful soil sulfur.
OPTION #2 (1-4 blueberry plants) Purchase bagged Acid Planting Mix for Azaleas and Rhododendrons. Blueberries have the same soil requirements. To each plant add 1/2 shovel Perilite for good drainage and 1-2 shovels organic compost. Blueberries love their acid and organic matter. These bags come in 1.5-2 cubic foot and can be purchased locally at Sunshine Growers, Yucaipa or Cherry Valley Nursery, Cherry Valley.
PLANTING – It is acceptable to plant in late fall but early spring is best because plants are dormant and less stressed by the replanting process. Fill container 1/3 to ½ full with your custom mixed soil, add handful of soil sulfur and mix into soil. Remove nursery pot and place root ball on custom soil and fill to original planting level. Water well and top with 2-4 inch layer of mulch to retain moisture. Mulch can also help maintain the acid environment and counteract the effects of our alkaline irrigation water. Good choices for mulch are: pine needles, wood chips (untreated), pine bark, composted leaves, coffee grounds, tea.
WATERING – Timed irrigation is a good way to maintain moisture. Root ball should not be allowed to dry out. Good irrigation during the growing season is 15 minutes every two days. Irrigation may need to be increased to everyday in the hottest part of summer. Supplemental water is not necessary during the winter rainy season.
FERTILIZING – Good soil preparation in the beginning decreases the need for fertilization. Supplemental feeding is only necessary twice a year, once when plants flower in spring and one month after harvest is complete. Blueberries don’t have high nitrogen requirements. Good low nitrogen organic fertilizers are cottonseed meal, organic Rhododendron/Azalea mix. A beneficial nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium ratio (N-P-K) is about 4-6-4.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS– To increase berry production, plant two different varieties within 100 feet of each other. Cross-pollination will increase blueberry harvest. When berries start to turn blue cover with bird netting to keep crop from flying away. Pinch flower buds from 1-2 year old bushes. Allow blossoms to produce fruit in third year. Well cared for bushes will reward you with delicious, healthful berries for 10 – 15 years in containers!
MORE BLUEBERRY GROWING INFORMATION
Great Planting Tip Guide http://www.davewilson.com/homegrown/promotion/bluecontainer.html
Tool for diagnosing problems
Growing Blueberry Bushes in the Ground
STRAWBERRY GROWING INFORMATION