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Garden Topics:
Blueberries in Pittsburgh - Tips for Growing a Super Crop

With its spring blooms and great red fall color the blueberry bush is an outstanding ornamental shrub that just happens to produce incredibly tasty fruit as a bonus. The Highbush Blueberry seldom has few problems from either disease or insects making it an ideal choice for organic gardeners. Blueberries are normally trouble free if given well-drained, acidic soil amended with plenty of organic compost.

Here are some tips to grow a bountiful crop of blueberries.

  1. When deciding the best variety to grow in your Pittsburgh area garden, stop in or give us a call. We are most happy to help. The most commonly grown blueberry varieties are Highbush types which are hardy to zones 3 through 8. We are in Zone 5.
  2. Cross-pollination is required for blueberry.  So to ensure good pollination, plant at least 2 different varieties.
  3. Blueberries ripen early, mid or late season depending on the variety. By planting varieties that ripen at different times one can extend the harvest for a longer period of time.
  4. Plant your berries in full sun; they can grow in partial shade but the berry crop will be reduced. Plant Low Bush blueberries 2 feet apart (ground cover types), and Highbush Blueberries 5 feet apart. Soil is the most important consideration when preparing to plant blueberries. They must have soil that is moist, well-drained, and high in organic matter with a PH in the range of 4.5 to 5.0. A 4.5 PH is extremely acidic, much more so than that which could occur naturally. Get your soil tested. If you choose not to take this advice, assume your soil has a PH of 6, and add Espoma Sulfur to your soil in accordance to the directions on the package. If plant foliage looses it’s dark green color, and starts to yellow, re-test the soil and make corrections to maintain the proper acidity. Blueberries have shallow roots and are sensitive to waterlogged soil and fluctuating moisture. They need to be moist but well-drained with 1 to 2 inches of water per week and supplemental watering during drought periods. Mulching will help conserve moisture.
  5. Blueberries will readily take in nutrients provided by organic fertilizers. Use high quality compost such as “Black Forest” organic soil mix, and a good organic blueberry fertilizer like “Espoma Holly Tone” to provide all fertility needs. Be aware that the roots are not very extensive, so don’t apply amendments beyond the plant canopy.
  6. It is not necessary to prune blueberry shrubs for the first 3 to 4 years. We remove all blooms from plants under two feet in height to encourage more vigorous plant growth. Taller plants don’t require this de-budding practice. After the plants become established, prune as needed in late winter through mid March. Remove dead, weak and crossing branches, and thin out older branches to force new growth. Try to maintain about 12 canes per plant that are a mix of different ages. Flower buds are produced on the tips and down the canes of second year old shoots and the most fruitful canes are 4 to 6 years old and 1 to 1 ½-inches in diameter at the base.  
  7. The berries will ripen over several weeks. Allow the berries to fully ripen on the plant. Their full flavor and aroma actually peaks a few days after they turn blue. To freeze spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer for about an hour then pack into plastic freezer containers.
  8. Our blueberry season here in the Pittsburgh area normally runs from 10 July through 10 August. Call 412-364-8270 for the latest picking information.

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