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The challenge of blueberries

January 14, 2010
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere

Blueberries can be rather difficult to raise. I know people who have been really successful raising them, while others have admitted defeat. Blueberries have some particular needs and wants that can be difficult but if you are up to a challenge, then perhaps this is the one you are looking for.

We all know that if we all lived up north, we would have access to many different places where Blueberries are raised, either on the wild side or by someone who has planted them. In our area, our biggest challenge is the pH of our soil and the fact that we do not always have well draining soil. Blueberries like to live in a moist environment but do not like to sit, even for a few hours in standing water. Peat moss added to the soil at a rough rate of about 1 1?2 to 2 cubic feet of peat per plant to loamy sands or coarse sandy soils will help improve the pH to keep your blueberries feet happy. pH must be around 4.5 to 5.5 in order for blueberry plants to do well. Elemental sulfur can also be used to lower pH but needs to be used one year ahead of time because the plant can not readily use it. Aluminum sulfate will also lower pH but it can also be toxic to the roots and is not recommended by the U of M. Acid sphagnum peat incorporated prior to planting your blueberries will help to keep the pH at the right level for high pH soils. It also lasts for six to ten years. You can also use ammonium sulfate or urea as the nitrogen source to help maintain a lower pH. The problem with using ammonium sulfate late in the growing season is that the excessive nitrogen available to the plant will increase winter injury.

There are many different cultivars to choose from which have been adapted for Minnesota and Wisconsin, most of which were introduced through either states colleges. The first is Northblue which yields about three to 12 pounds per plant and has the best processed flavor. The next is Northsky which yields only about one to three pounds per plant and does better with cross pollination. Northcountry will yield about 3-7 pounds per plant and also does better with cross pollination with a flavor more similar to that of a wild blueberry. St. Cloud yields about three to nine pounds per plant and tends to be a bigger plant then those previously mentioned. This plant requires a second cultivar for pollination and has good storage capability. Polaris tends to be a larger plant that yields about three to 10 pounds per plant, requires a second plant for pollination and has intense flavor. Chippewa yields about three to 12 pounds per plant, does better with cross pollination and has a sweet flavor. Northland has a mild flavor, yields about 3-12 pounds per plant and is a wide plant at about 5 feet across. Bluetta and Patriot are two other cultivars but through research at the U of M, the zone for growing these two is 5 which makes them tender plants in our area.

Plants need to be fertilized every two weeks during the growing season with products such as Peter's Acid Special or Miracid. Fertilizer applications should be stopped during late summer to allow the plants to go dormant. Plants will do better if they are covered for the winter. The remaining leaves should be stripped off and the plants sprayed with a protective fungicide such as Captan.

It is recommended that plants be covered first with plastic, then about one foot of straw or hay on top and cover with a second sheet of plastic.

This combination not only helps to protect the plants from the extreme lower temperatures we receive but it will also help keep the plants from drying out. You will probably need to do this for the first three years and then evaluate how the plants are doing before deciding how to ready them for their fourth winter.

Next week, we will be talking about tomatoes. Send me an email about your favorite tomato variety.

For more information about gardening, you can reach me at



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