Lordy at the Blueberries!*

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
There are both old and new blueberry bushes in the fruit patch since we added a few new ones last year. Surprisingly, 2 of the 4 made a few berries and they are as sweet as the mature plants across the aisle. As a matter of fact, if I ever need a hedge, it will be blueberries and not just because of the fruit. The blue-green, almost waxy new growth soon develops a beautiful clear green color on sweetly rounded leaves. Their texture is fine enough to contrast in that hedge, a bed, or a big planter with my other favorite cottage garden hedge plant, golden bamboo. The combination of an evergreen and a mostly-green like blueberries is delightful in a hedge, less dense and more interesting to the eye. Little white flowers appear on blueberries in early spring (and are occasionally caught in a late freeze) and soon the green berries form in clusters, mostly at stem ends. In a wet spring like this one, there’s nothing to do but wait for the fruit to ripen and reward your patience. If you are putting in new blueberry plants, it’s good to remember that these are acid loving plants more like azaleas than squash or roses. They need a richly organic, fertile, well-drained soil that you can create with this recipe: Dig up an area roughly 3 feet wide and 18” deep for each 1 gallon blueberry plant. Mix that native soil with half as much ground pine bark and 2 shovels of composted manure. Plant at the depth the bush was growing in its pot, water in well with a root stimulator (a fertilizer or hormone product), and blanket with an inch of organic mulch. I use a soaker hose on top of the mulch around my blueberries and keep the weeds pulled when they emerge to reduce competition for water and nutrients. With rich soil and reasonable rainfall, you won’t have to water much, even in full sun. And that’s another grand quality of these plants – blueberries will produce fairly well in a bit more than half a day in sun, but the fall color may not be as vivid. Picking blueberries can be an exercise in patience, too, since they ripen over a period of weeks. Don’t be tempted to pluck any that are more red than blue as they will not ripen nearly as well off the bush. Pick daily, or every other day. The biggest problem with this is that as I am trying to gather enough for a pie or cobbler, everyone who passes through the kitchen has to have a handful. The berries freeze very well, thankfully, and I have been known to hide a bag there as they accumulate. Routine care of blueberry bushes is no big deal, either. After the fruit is all picked, take a look at the plants. First clip out any dead branches or twigs and remove any that scrape the ground now or will soon. Trust me on this – I missed two low hangers last year and now they’re raised onto pots to keep the fruit clean, not an attractive look! Next, if the plants are too tall to pick or not as thick as you’d like, prune off a few inches across the top and shape the rest into a rounded form. Light pruning each year will keep new growth coming with lots of leaves to nourish plenty of annual fruit. Follow pruning with fertilizer intended for acid loving plants along with a light layer of compost/manure and new mulch. Nothing could be easier, except perhaps for eating blueberries by the handful!
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