Blueberries

Blueberry bushes not only provide fresh fruit but also can be used as a source of fall color in a backyard planting. Blueberries are relatively easy to grow, provide about eight quarts of berries per bush at maturity, and the fruits are versatile and high in vitamin C. There are several blueberry varieties that are suitable for the backyard gardener. Highbush varieties do well just about anywhere east of the Mississippi and in the Northeast and are native to most of the eastern United States as far south as northern Florida. Lowbush species are native from the Alleghenies to New England and Canada and are widespread into the upper Midwest. Only 6 to 18 inches tall, their low spreading habit and attractive fall foliage make them excellent in home landscapes.

Mountain blueberries, native to the Pacific Northwest, are praised for their exceptional flavor. Purchase two-year-old plants from a reputable nursery. Plants this size are easy to handle, become established quickly and bear fruit within a year or two after planting. For adequate cross-pollination be sure to plant at least two varieties that overlap in time of bloom. Blueberry plants are shallow rooted and require soils that hold moisture well, but are also well-drained. Dry, sandy soils and heavy wet soils can be improved by adding a source of organic matter such as peat moss, well-rotted manure, compost, aged sawdust, or leafmold. Blueberries grow best in soils with a pH range of 4.6 to 4.8 but should do well in soils with a pH ranging from 4.0 to 5.2. An area where plants like laurel, huckleberry, wild blueberry, or pines are growing is usually suitable for blueberries.

Soils should be prepared, and all preparations should be completed two weeks ahead of planting. Rows can be rototilled, or individual holes (two feet across by two feet deep) can be dug as early in the spring as possible. A mixture of equal parts of loam, sand, and organic matter should be placed in the holes before planting. Since blueberries require acid soils, lime is not needed in a blueberry planting. Often, peat moss, sulfur, sulfate of ammonia, or another acidic material must be added to lower pH (and increase soil acidity). Well-aged manure can be worked into the soil in the fall before planting. About a month after setting out plants, side dress with compost around the base of the plant. Blueberry bushes should be planted in full sunlight for maximum fruit production. Set out plants as early in the spring as possible. Plant bushes one to two inches deeper in the soil than they were in the nursery, six to eight feet apart, in rows spaced eight to ten feet apart. After plants have been set in the holes, fill the holes three-fourths full with soil mixture, and then flood the hole. After the water has drained, fill in the holes with soil and tamp it down. Mulching the plants with clean straw, compost, sawdust, or wood chips will help conserve moisture as well as aid in weed control. A three to four inch layer of the above materials should be suitable. Mature blueberry bushes require one to two inches of water each week for best growth and productivity, especially during the harvest season. Blueberry bushes, especially young ones, suffer starvation if weeds or lawn are allowed to grow too close. Blueberry roots are close to the soil surface and need to be protected against competing weeds. Mulching is the recommended method of weed control around plants. Blossoms should be removed from newly-set-out plants to encourage maximum growth. Extra water and/or additional fertilizer applications may be necessary if plants are not making much growth. Pruning is the most important aspect of blueberry culture. Annual pruning is necessary to invigorate the bushes, encourage annual fruit production, and prevent the bushes from overbearing. Until the bushes reach maturity (at about eight years old) remove only dead, broken, short or weak shoots. On mature bushes remove one-third of the oldest shoots each year, as well as any broken or diseased branches. Prune in late winter or early spring before growth begins.Flower buds are produced on the end of a shoot's growth. The flower buds are plump and rounded, leaf buds are small and pointed. Each flower bud may produce a cluster of five to eight berries. If all flower buds are left on, too many berries will be produced and many will be small and worthless. Also, short, thin shoots will grow resulting in poor fruiting wood for the following year's crop. Bushes need little pruning during the first two or three years after planting; only short, weak twiggy growth need be removed. After two summers, all the plants should be ready to prune for a small crop (1/2 to 1 pint per bush). Remove the thin, twiggy growth and concentrate the potential crop on a small number of stout, fruiting shoots. By limiting the cropping to only the strong shoots, the bush will continue to grow rapidly. A heavy crop at this time dwarfs the bush.

After the fourth summer, some canes may show a weakening due to heavy bearing. From this time on, the first step in pruning is to remove canes which have only small weak, fruiting twigs. They may be cut to the ground or to a strong side shoot near the ground. This will stimulate the sprouting of new canes from the base, which keeps a plant relatively "young." It also allows adequate sunlight to penetrate the bush and promote the setting of fruit buds. With enough sunlight, the new canes will start producing fruiting laterals in the second year at a relatively low level in the bush and will be able to develop a large zone of fruiting wood in the third and fourth years. In a dense, crowded bush a new cane will take three or four years to produce nothing more than a tuft of fruiting twigs at the very top of the bush. The number of old canes to be removed depends on the rate of growth over the past several years and varies considerably over six years old; it may be necessary to remove old canes annually due to changing growth rates. After removing the older canes, the small twiggy growth is eliminated in favor of the stronger shoots. A limited amount of twiggy growth may be left in the lower portion of the bush. At this level shading is not a factor, and the fruit production from these twigs will add to the total crop.

Blueberry bushes are often weakened by: overbearing due to improper pruning, poor soil drainage, insufficient fertilizer, drought injury, crowding, scale injury, and grubs feeding on the roots. After the undesirable conditions have been corrected, it is possible to rejuvenate the plants by removing 1/3 to 1/2 of the old bush. This is accomplished by making large cuts at ground level. The remaining portion of the plant is allowed to bear heavily. The remaining old canes are removed the following spring.

Birds are a major problem with blueberry growing. Bushes often must be covered with netting to protect developing berries from birds. The major insect pests on blueberries are apple maggot, fruit worms, and Japanese beetles. The major diseases are mummy berry, twig blights (caused by several different fungi), and viruses. Disease prevention is a good rule to follow when growing any small fruit. With blueberry growing, the following cultural practices will help prevent serious problems with most diseases.

1.Plant disease resistant varieties when possible. Purchase healthy plants.

2.Regular pruning helps to increase production, removes diseased plant parts, increases air circulation within the plants, and helps initiate fruit bud formation.

3.Prune out all diseased and insect-infested wood. Remove any wood that is broken or damaged. All diseased wood should be burned to prevent reinfestation of healthy plants. Keep plants free from weeds and debris. Rake under the bushes.

"Mummy berry" is the most serious blueberry disease. It is a fungus which first appears on newly emerging stems and flower clusters causing them to blacken and die. Later, spores infect blossoms. Developing fruit become tan and hard. These "mummified" berries eventually fall to the ground. Fungal spores overwinter inside the mummified berries. Removing  infected berries is essential in preventing the disease from reoccurring. Raking and shallow cultivating between plants helps remove mummified berries. Often, blueberry leaves show a yellowing, or chlorosis, especially between the leaf veins. This is usually a result of the blueberry roots being unable to take up iron from the soil. This "iron deficiency" is more often than not related to soil pH, or acidity. Blueberries should be grown in a pH range of 4.2 to 5.0. Above pH 5.0 the plants show this typical deficiency symptom. If your plants show yellow leaves, have your soil tested to determine if the problem is pH related.

Blueberries are often harvested too early. After the berries turn blue, they should be left on the bushes for three to seven days to ripen and develop their full flavor and sugar content. Berries should be harvested at two to three day intervals to discourage Japanese beetles, other insects, and fruit rots from entering ripening fruit.

The berries can be canned, frozen or dehydrated in the same way as raspberries. Tea from the leaves is a common herbal remedy for bladder and kidney infections.

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Companion planting tip

Plant Catnip to deter ants aphids, Colorado beetles, darkling beetles, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, weevils. Dill repels aphids and spider mites. Sage deters cabbage worms, white cabbage moths, and root maggots.

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Japanese Beetles

Adult beetles are about 1.5-2cm long, green colored with bronze wings. They have small patches of white hairs on their bodies. Grubs are white to cream and the typical c-shape. They measure about 2.5 cm long when mature. They are found in most of the USA, parts of Canada and many other countries in the world. Japanese beetles are not native to the USA or Canada. They overwinter in the soil as larvae and in spring begin feeding on grass roots. Once they emerge the adults are voracious!

Adults mate in the summer and the female lays 40-60 eggs in the soil. June and July are the peak months for these predators. There is only one generation per year. In colder climates their lifecycle may take two years. They attack roses, ornamentals, most trees and shrubs, many veggies and grasses. They will attack almost anything and it is reported they prefer at least 300 different species of plants. These guys can cause serious problems to the home gardener. They chew holes in leaves and flowers causing the leaves to look skeletonized. Eventually affected plants will die.

1) Hand Pick

When you find them destroy them & their larvae. Best time to do this is in the morning before they are fully active. The little hand vacuum is a handy tool for handpicking as well.

2) Beneficials

Birds, wheel bugs, parasitic wasps, robber flies and praying mantis. Skunks, moles and shrew eat grubs.

 

3) Milky Spore Disease

You can buy this at any nursery and it will kill the grubs. Apply in the spring and then again after the adults begin to die off at the end ofthe summer.

4) Row Covers

Use row covers when the beetles are in flight.

5) Sticky Traps

Make some sticky traps with tanglefoot, collect the beetles every morning and drop in hot soapy water.

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Herbs

Male Fern grows freely in damp areas and on hedge banks. Should be avoided in the herb garden because of possible health risks.

Vipers Bugloss sow in late summer in any soil where plants are to flower, and thin seedlings to 18 inches apart. Transplant others to new sites while still young and their taproots are under developed. Plants self sow freely where happy. Also called blue weed, blue devil.

(Garden or Sweet) Rocket for succulent leaves grow in rich, moist soil in full sun or light shade; on hot dry soils plant run to seed quickly and produce tough, bitter leaves. Sow in spring and again at mid summer ( all year round in warm districts), and keep well watered. Plants usually self seed. Also called rocket-salad, rocket-gentle and rocquette.

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Brandie

‘A garden is the mirror of a mind. It is a place of life, a mystery of green moving to the pulse of the year, and pressing on and pausing the whole to its own inherent rhythms.”

 

 

 

 
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