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Posted by Chaya Kurtz | G+ | Mar 12, 2013

Three Tips for Growing Blueberries

Blueberry bushes attract pollinators, and yield delicious fruit.

A young boy picks blueberries from a blueberry bush. (Photo: elinluna/morguefile.com)There is a strong case to be made for growing blueberries in a home garden. The bushes are similar in stature to common ornamental bushes, like Rhododendron, but they offer much more of a payoff for the space that they occupy. The benefits of growing blueberry bushes are many: Blueberry bushes provide necessary food for pollinators. Since honeybee populations are on the decline in most of the USA, it is helpful for homeowners to create bee-friendly landscaping in order to bolster local bee populations. Blueberries are extremely nutritious, not to mention tasty. In season for a short time, blueberries tend to be expensive in the markets. Blueberry bushes can provide you with an ample supply of fruit during their growing season, as well as extra to freeze or can for the winter. With a bit of care, you can grow blueberries in your yard, and enjoy the bushes for years to come.

Tip one for growing blueberries: Blueberry bushes require "very acidic soil conditions", according to the Ohio State University Extension Service. Moist, well-drained soil with a pH of between 4.5 and 5.0 is the ideal soil for blueberry bushes. Before planting blueberry bushes, you'll need to have your soil analyzed to find out what its pH is, and which nutrients need to be added to it. Many university extension services offer soil testing services. Since blueberry bushes need soil with a high content of organic matter, you may need to add organic matter (like compost) to the soil. It's hard to know how much fertilizer to add, or how much acidifying agent you'll need to add, without an initial soil analysis. Also, you'll need to maintain the soil throughout the year to ensure optimal growth of your blueberry bushes.

Tip two for growing blueberries: Watering blueberry bushes properly is critical for growth. In order for the the berries to form well, blueberry bushes need plenty of water. You don't want to deprive blueberry bushes of water. You'll need to deliver one to two inches of water per week to your blueberry bushes, even after the harvest during late August and September. Watering the blueberry bushes after the harvest promotes the growth of the following year's crop. In the late fall, once the bush's leaves drop, you can stop providing supplemental water. During the growing season, the best way to water blueberry bushes is with soaker hoses, which deliver water right to the roots of the bushes.

Tip three for growing blueberries: Pruning and mulching your blueberry bushes can help them to live longer, grow bigger, and produce more fruit. We'll start with pruning. For the first three years of growth, blueberry bushes do not need to be pruned. In March of the fourth year of your blueberry bush's growth, it should be pruned. Remove dead branches, dormant branches, and interior cross branches that block light from reaching the interior of the bush. Now, on to mulch: Since blueberry bushes like nutrient-dense, moist soil, mulching is important. You'll need to keep the mulch at a constant two to four inches in depth. Wood chips and peat moss are fine mulches for blueberry bushes.

With a bit of TLC and some initial soil testing, you can nurture blueberry bushes in your own yard. One last tip: If birds are eating up your blueberries, netting the bushes can help to protect them from birds.

Chaya Kurtz writes for Networx.com.

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