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Blueberry Frustration

mainegard3
October 27, 2018
last modified: October 27, 2018

I live in southern Maine and have 7 blueberry shrubs that are early mid and late season. I would say for 6 to 8 years they have not fruited/ flowered. They have been moved 2 times and this year I made room to put them in full sun. The bushes are about 3 feet high and still have 3-5 thin branches. Soil ph is around 5.5. So to kick start these i need some help.

1. What type of mulch do I need?

2. What type of fertilizer and how much per shrub?

3. What type of soil acidifier and how much?

4. How much water per week?

5. How do I prune them at this point?

Would it help if I cut them to the ground to

encourage new growth?

6. Any other old tricks that might help?

Thanks!


Comments (21)

  • melikeeatplants

    If you keep pruning off new growth you won’t get fruit because it comes on older wood. Each time you move it you are setting it back if it’s full sun and a low ph you will be fine only use acid based fertilizer for blueberries

    mainegard3 thanked melikeeatplants
  • kitasei

    If it makes you feel any better I have the same problem. Perhaps they are simply slow to establish?

    mainegard3 thanked kitasei
  • oldryder

    Blueberries are tough. I prepared the planting bed with 1/2 peat and 1/2 soil; tested Ph and used acidifier as needed, mulched them with wood chips every year, and I still have plants that don't give much fruit and never look real healthy. Maybe someday I'll figure them out.

    mainegard3 thanked oldryder
  • mainegard3

    Hi all, your replies are refreshing and almost like therapy:). Maybe I should tape the ones from the store onto the shrubs and claim victory...

  • AlexUnder

    I am also ready to give up on them - no flowers, no berries, at least 3 years old. I thought cotton-tailed rats are to blame, but they are not doing better in the new place as well. Final warning - they will be going to compost if there is no positive development next year.

  • Josh Rowe

    1. What type of mulch do I need?

    I use pine needles or pine bark mulch.


    2. What type of fertilizer and how much per shrub?

    It depends if you’re trying to keep organic or not. I use Ammonium Sulfate 21-0-0 Fertilizer. I buy this right through amazon. This might not be the best choice for you as you already have a good PH level of 5.5. I use this as Ammonium Sulfate is one of the better fertilizers if you PH is a little high and you don’t mind going non organic.

    If you want to use an organic fertilizer you can use something like holly-tone. According to espoma’s website you can use one cup per foot of branch spread or double if the spread is 3’ or larger.

    Reference: https://www.espoma.com/fruits-vegetables/how-to-fertilize-blueberry-plants/

    I typically fertilize once at bud swell, once more a month later, then a final fertilizer 1 month after that. (3 times in total per year)


    3. What type of soil acidifier and how much?

    You don’t really need a soil acidifier if your soil is at 5.5ph I don’t think but if your soil ph does go up you can use something like epsoma’s soil acidifier. I usually use about 2 cups per plant a year in about June time as my ph is a little high.

    https://www.espoma.com/product/soil-acidifier/


    4. How much water per week?

    Honestly I don’t water my blueberry bushes I let the rain take care of them unless we don’t get rain for over a week.


    5. How do I prune them at this point?

    You don’t need to prune too much for high bush blueberries until they get to about 6 years old. This guy has a really good video from the University of Maine on how to prune blueberry bushes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm6ZfpGy5oQ&t=17s I typically wait until March time frame to do any pruning in Zone 5a NY, right before bud swell while the plant is still dormant.


    5. Any other old tricks that might help?

    Yes, stop moving the bushes as this sets them back a ton! When you move a bush it is best to prune them to the ground. When you prune them to the ground it’s like planting a new blueberry bush and you shouldn’t expect to get berries on the bush for 2 years at which point you should pick the berries for good plant growth. Then at the 3rd year you should start seeing some berries.




    Good luck!


    mainegard3 thanked Josh Rowe
  • mainegard3

    So when I initially bought them they were a few feet high and I didn’t move them for 3 years. Since it didn’t flower, I could not remove them the flowers as a part of the process for getting them well established. So in that case, if I got flowers year 4, would I still need to remove them for 2 years before picking? I moved them so they would have more sun.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    IMO, there is way too much hype involved in growing blueberries. They are tough plants that shoud do well with minimal attention. They don't even require the extreme acidity most sites insist on!! They do like a well drained, organically rich soil with a pH of 6.0 (or lower). They appreciate a consistently moist (but not soggy) soil and full sun.....if yours were in much shade that could account for the reduced or lack of flowering.

    It is also not necessary to cut the shrubs back hard when moving and if you take a full rootball (as much of the existing root system as possible) then there is NO need to remove flowers or further delay any berrying. Here blueberries are usually just mulched each season with compost but any fertilizer for acid loving plants will work. And you can use any mulch you like - neither the pine straw or pine bark will have much affect on soil pH anyway.


    mainegard3 thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • Sherry

    My experience probably won't help, since I'm a different zone, but it does show how hardy they are.

    My son gave me an extra plant he had. No label at all. I threw it in a 16" pot in Miracle Grow potting soil. Watered it when I remembered. It grew and the second year it had a few berries. Again, water when I remembered, fertilized once or twice. Next year I am fighting the birds for berries.

    Last year we had a bad dry spell and I forgot it and all the leaves turned brown. I thought it was dead, but left over the winter. It sprouted back from the base and I repotted in a 24" pot and it is three times the size it was. No berries this year, because of it all being new growth. I have big hopes for next year. I intend to get a cover when berries set.

    I think you may be fussing with them too much. Since they are in full sun, they should love it now. The only pruning they need for awhile is just dead wood that doesn't leaf out.

    mainegard3 thanked Sherry
  • mainegard3

    Thank you all for some great feedback!! I will let them be and see how it goes. Once I do get berries, do I prune that fruited section off or is that not necessary?

  • George Davis

    I have ten blueberry plants. Five in dirt and five hydroponic that I grow all year round outside. The years I remember to mulch with coffee grounds in the spring gives me a good crop of berries. All are in 5gal containers. I use an inch or more of the grinds to cover all of them. You really need that much to keep the ph level that low. If I get lazy in the spring I still get good growth but no berries. It's really the strength of concentration that will give you your berries. Or just plant in straight peat moss using one liter of urine with a gallon of water. That's how our grandparents did it.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Sorry to burst your bubble but used coffee grounds (UCG's) have been tested out as pretty much neutral afa pH is concerned. They do contain a fair degree of N so that may be what is helping your plants but using coffee grounds to alter pH is pretty much a wasted effort.....you would need truckloads to effect any measurable change!! Most of the acidity is leached out with the coffee itself.

    btw, I grow blueberries in only moderately acidic soil with a pH of 6.3 and they flower and fruit perfectly well. As do all the commercial blueberry farms in my area.

  • George Davis

    I've been doing this quite happily myself for the last five years but haven't checked the ph level. As I said above I use an inch of grinds to effect the change and can see the difference the year I didn't. The hydroponic systems should be thawed so I'll check just cause you mentioned it. But where's the rub? I did say you need a lot to effect the change.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    "A lot" is way more than an inch or so used as a topdressing!! As I stated, you would need a truckload of the stuff to affect any kind of measurable change in pH.

    Tell me how a product (the UCG's) with a pH of 6.7 (on average) is going to alter the pH of container soil, ground soil or hydroponic solution to the degree of acidity blueberries prefer?? Not gonna happen!!

  • George Davis

    Checked one of "working water" systems and it had a ph of 5. That's after a whole season. But you see I should start using the term "working water" rather than hydroponics. It's a different method. There's more going on than just the ph level. And what's with the "!!!". You can go to the website and look for yourself. People who are stuck with the use of mined mineral don't understand the bio action involved in the breakdown of natural materials. They have to worry about bacteria in their systems while I encourage it. My methods allows plants to set their own ph. I guess that'll get another round of "!!!". It's the interaction of the of the plant with the bacteria on the UCG which soaks into mix or soil that lowers the ph. You can "!!!" all you want but he method allows all plant roots that are hardy to their area to survive right thru the winter in a bucket of water frozen solid and come back year after year. Not only that but the method is so effective that you have 90% water saving because the containers are sealed so water only evaporates out thru the leave. And by the way I grow my own coffee.

  • Sue R. (U.P. Mich, z3)

    Mainegard3 - May I suggest (kindly) you might want to focus on something else and let your blueberries do what they want to do - grow and produce - without too much "help"? It sounds like you now have them in a good spot and acid enough soil. My plants are most 8-12 yrs old and their only feed has been from mulch. They produce well and are healthy. Mulch with whatever you have -- I use hay, pine needles, sometimes leaves. They all work. Plants in the colder area often are slower growers. Being overfed isn't likely to make them any happier. Moving them has very likely set them back many years. They'll need time to re-establish and regrow their roots. You might think of yours as young plants now getting ahappy good start.


    Don't worry about pruning until they are established and producing new canes. A general recommendation is a goal of 6-10 canes 1-6 yrs old. But each variety and plant is different. Some of mine put out few new canes ,others many. Cut out any damaged, crossing, or real wonky branches and winterkill. But leave the rest until they make good growth.


    A stressed plant is going to take longer to start producing. I have a Blueray that was a poor, old, potbound nursery should-have-been-reject (I felt sorry for it so bought it) (live and learn - I now only buy from a good, reliable source - Fedco in my case - it's well worth it). But this little plant took seven years to produce a first small crop and ten to catch up with the others. It is now full. lush, healthy and productive though. Good, healthy-from-the-start plants were producing from year 2 or 3.


    I do wish you the best with your blueberries. They are a wonderful fruit and there's a good chance yours will recover and produce well for you in the future. Sue

    mainegard3 thanked Sue R. (U.P. Mich, z3)
  • George Davis

    Thank you Sue, because in the long run ti's what works for you. Take what information you can find and there's plenty of it here. Just enjoy the fact there's s many with information to share.

  • mainegard3

    You never know ...I tossed a hydrangea into the compost pile cause it never bloomed; the next spring under the soggy pile of yuck were three blue flowers from that plant....hummm lol

  • Tim C (Z8b, So Cal)

    Sorry for coming into this thread late. My first reaction was if they were planted in full sun? Then I just read that you moved them into full sun this year. I got a hunch your blueberry will do well next year being in full sun. I myself was just going through the same decision on planting blueberry in my backyard and one (O’Neill - a southern highbush) had to be planted in full sun whereas the other one (Sweetheart- a hybrid) can tolerate partial shade.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio

    I have about a dozen blueberry plants, all different named varieties -- all in pots -- some have thrived and produce lots of berries, some have merely survived (not thrived) over the same time period, all in the same sun exposure and potting mix. I just assume that the non-thrivers were either not quality plants, or not the right variety for my conditions.

  • mainegard3

    Yeah, I finally made room for them in full sun. The spots they were in had lots of sun but not full. Also, the deer recommended I let them take care of the pruning so i fired them and hired some netting ;)

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