Topic outline

  • General

    General Characteristics Desired Within a Blueberry Planting Site

    This self-directed course is designed for blueberry producers of small crops. Participants will gain an understanding what to look for when selecting sites to grow blueberries after taking this course. For more information contact Dr. Elina Coneva at edc0001@auburn.edu.

    • Topic 1

      Proper Soil pH, Organic Matter Requirements and Terrain and Climatic Considerations

      Select a sunny location that is well drained, free of weeds and well worked. Locate in an area where irrigation water is available as best results will be obtained by keeping the root zone moist throughout the growing season.

      Blueberries grow best in soils with pH of 4.5 to 5.0. Soils with a native pH above 5.5 will be hard to modify for blueberry culture and should be avoided. The pH of soils with low native pH that has been limed to achieve an artificially high pH may be lowered by adding sulfur. The sulfur should be incorporated into the soil at least six months before planting. See Suggestions for Soil Acidification in the fact sheet Growing Blueberries in the Home Garden by the Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Service (attached below). More information on soil pH also can be found in this publication, Soil pH and Fertilizers from the Mississippi State Universtiy Cooperative Extension Service.

      Blueberries have a shallow, fibrous root system that grows best in a well-drained soil with high organic matter content. High soil organic matter will increase plant vigor and fruit production of blueberry plants. The addition of organic matter, such as pine bark, to the soil at planting will greatly increase the productivity of the blueberry planting.

      Rabbiteye blueberry cultivars vary in their chilling requirements (hours below 45 degrees F), and these requirements must be considered when selecting cultivars for specific geographic regions. Generally, cultivars that require as few as 300 – 400 chilling hours may be grown in southern Mississippi, 31 degrees north latitude, with adequate frost protection, whereas cultivars having chilling hour requirements of 500 hours or more may be grown throughout the Southeast. Developing flower buds, blooms and fruit of lower chill, early-ripening rabbiteye blueberry cultivars are susceptible to late spring freeze injury and frequently require frost protection to prevent crop loss. Low-lying areas are unsuitable for blueberry production because cold air often settles into these areas and frost damage can occur during bloom and early fruit set, resulting in a reduced crop. Additionally, the soil is often poorly drained in these areas and blueberries will not grow well in excessively wet areas. Marginally wet areas can be modified for blueberry production by the formation of raised planting beds 8 inches to 12 inches high, and 3 feet to 4 feet wide.

    • Topic 2

      Soil Tests

      If you are considering a particular location to establish a blueberry planting, your first step should be to conduct a simple soil test, or bring a soil sample to your local soil testing laboratory. There are several guidelines to follow when choosing a soil testing laboratory including: test methods, laboratory proficiency, units of results and so on. The Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Service lists other guidelines in its Guidelines for Choosing a Soil-Testing Laboratory.

      Follow soil test recommendations to correct any inadequacies, eliminate hardpans, improve soil structure and adjust organic matter to acceptable levels for your particular blueberry bushes. Blueberry plants will perform poorly in areas with large amounts of wood ash. This may occur in sights where windrows, rows of vegetative debris, were recently burned or on newly cleared land. These areas have high concentrations of minerals, salts and a high pH level. The location of these windrows should be considered when laying out the field to reduce problem areas after planting.

      Soil tests could save blueberry producers money. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, people could save as much as $100 per acre by spending a few dollars on soil tests.

    • Topic 3


      Weed Management and Irrigation Requirements

      Weed control is especially important because blueberries are very poor competitors for moisture and nutrients. Clean cultivation can be used, but care must be taken to avoid injury to the very shallow root systems of these plants. Use of sod strips between rows, with maintenance of a weed-free strip 3 to 4 feet wide on row centers, is preferable.

      It is essential that a weed-free strip be maintained in the rows to ensure that weeds do not compete with the blueberry plants. This is best accomplished by appropriately timed applications of preemergence and postemergence herbicides. Hand hoeing and shallow mechanical cultivation may also be used in some instances. The proper time to apply preemergence herbicides to kill weed seedlings as they emerge in blueberry fields is September 1 to October 1 for winter weeds and February 15 to March 30 for summer weeds. Application of contact and systemic (translocated) postemergence herbicides may be required to control some difficult weed species

      Perennial weeds should be killed by cultivation and the use of a systemic herbicide the summer before planting. Weed control the first two years after planting is challenging; therefore, eliminating the perennial weeds before planting greatly reduces future weed problems.

      In addition to proper weed control, an abundant source of irrigation water -- free of sodium, low in calcium and with favorable levels of other minerals -- should be available onsite. Irrigation water can be obtained from wells or ponds with proper filtration.

      Locate in an area where irrigation water is available as best results will be obtained by keeping the root zone moist throughout the growing season. Where the soil is poor or marginally drained, raised beds 3 feet to 4 feet wide and 8 inches to 12 inches high work very well for blueberries.

      Adequate drainage is important. Find a suitable site, avoiding low lying areas the collect water or are slow to drain in the spring.

    • Topic 4


      Conclusion & Wrap-up:

      Now that you have learned what characteristics are desired within a blueberry planting site, you are ready to take a quiz! Be sure to print the certificate that will be available once you receive a passing grade! Thanks for your interest!