Blueberries are one of the most enjoyable and reliable fruits to grow in the Southeast when provided with a solid foundation. There is an equality of effect when appropriate soil preparation, available sunlight (5-7hrs), and proximity to water sources are considered. At maturity, Rabbiteyes can produce 10-15 pounds of fruit per shrub, while only occupying 50-100 square feet of a given landscape. We begin our blueberry planting by soaking the plant in diluted liquified seaweed to reduce transplant shock for 20-200 minutes (depending on season)
First siting your blueberries is very important. They want to have access to water but not ‘wet feet’. They prefer high up on the edge of a bog, not in it. Standing water for any longer than 24hrs will not work. When you’ve found a site with good moisture availability and 4-8 hrs of sun, remove all grass thoroughly. Create a wide planting hole with a mattock or pickaxe 3-5 times the width of the plant.
Even though Southern clay soils are naturally acidic, we need to supplement new plantings with an appropriate nutrient base to grow into. Our blueberry amendment mix contains Cottonseed Meal, Feather Meal, Kelp Meal, Green Sand, Rock Phosphate, and Sulfur. These amendments promote the vigorous and productive long term growth of the blueberry plant. We mix this blend with a digging fork in to the planting hole after it has been throughly broken up.
Once the amendments have been mixed, we add 1/4 to 1/3 of a wheelbarrow of a mild and more fungally dominant compost (usually leaf compost from B & B Topsoil and the Rock Shop). Blueberries have great longevity, able to produce well into 30 or 40 years with appropriate nutrition and pruning. We mix this relatively small amount of compost in with the native soil and amendments, establishing a living base for roots to press out into.
We then mix the compost and native soil thoroughly, creating a biologically active base layer. The color should be more brown than orange when we’re through.
Next we arrange the root ball level with the current soil level, which will rise after mulching. Root balls are usually covered 95% with our mixed blend of native soil and compost blend. Blueberry roots are fairly surface level and fibrous, so creating a wide planting area with dynamic soil really improves the growth rate.
After we’ve covered the newly planted shrub with 1/4″ of compost, we lightly dust a ring for plant roots to receive ‘slow-release’ once the mulch has been applied. This is adding a lot of density to the soil food web, and in this case, very depleted soil in a new subdivision (compaction, backfill, clay subsoil!).
Because this soil is so hurt we are going to add an extra 1/2″ of leaf compost to regenerate and invigorate the planting area. To learn more about blueberries while supporting a community orchard, join us this Saturday from 10:00am-2:00pm at Cherry Grove Park, 107 North Driver Street, Durham, NC 27703
We then add hardwood mulch on top of the plant. Notice the soil is now ‘raised’ but the actual soil horizon is much lower than the mulch (about 2-3″ lower). As the mulch breaks down, these two layers will shrink down to level. Mulch also suppresses weeds and increases biological activity and organic matter in the soil. Pine mulches are equally good for blueberries!