Summer Care Important to Next Year’s Blueberries

As summer continues to sizzle, blueberry season is fizzling out in Alabama. Most years Alabama blueberries continue to grow through late summer, but with mild winter temperatures and an early spring, blueberry bushes in the state are done producing.

Mallory Kelley, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said maintenance now will ensure a healthy blueberry crop next year.

“The most important thing you can do any time of year for a blueberry bush is water and control weeds,” Kelley said. “Now that the plants are finished making berries, the plants will begin to put their energy toward making new shoots and branches.”

Kelley said this is exactly what a grower wants, as new growth will hold the biggest and best berries next year. To promote branch growth, plants will need water, mulch and fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing after mid-September to minimize new tissue susceptibility to frost damage.

“Generally, blueberries need fertilizing twice per year,” Kelley said. “Once in early spring and again as berries fade away.”

Use a urea-based fertilizer labeled for azaleas and camellias. This fertilizer will help acidify the soil, as blueberries like a low pH of 4.5-5.2. Growers should submit samples for a soil test if they have not tested the soil in the previous three years. This will confirm soil nutrient levels and determine soil pH.

Kelley said pruning blueberry bushes now will multiply berry production next year.

“As your plants start to grow long, straight shoots and canes, clip these a little lower than where you would like to have the fruit next year,” she said. “This means if you want the fruit to be chest high, clip those canes about a foot lower.”

More clipping on long canes will mean more branching on the bush. More branches will mean more fruit on those branches next year. Take care to remove any dead or diseased branches while pruning.

Plant more blueberries during the fall. Kelley reminds growers to plant different varieties of “Rabbiteye” to prolong the growing season. Different varieties produce at different times throughout the summer.

Plant blueberries in full sun. Soil should be moist, well-aerated, well-drained and high in organic matter. Incorporate organic matter in the form of peat moss, compost or fine pine bark. Additional organic matter will help the soil retain water, as well as suppress weeds.

For more information about growth and maintenance of blueberries, call the Master Gardener Helpline. The toll-free helpline connects callers with a knowledgeable team of Master Gardeners who can help answer all of your gardening questions. Armed with research and Alabama Cooperative Extension System publications, these volunteers also contact specialists to find the answers you need.

Call 1-877-ALA-GROW (252-4769) to reach the Master Gardener Helpline Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
By Katie Nichols