Home Garden Lowbush Blueberry Planting Guide

Prepared by David E. Yarborough, Extension Blueberry Specialist, The University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Orono, ME 04469. February 2003.

Blueberries are very versatile plants that produce fruit that is great for eating, canning or freezing, and make excellent landscape shrubs. They provide spring flowers, attractive foliage, colorful berries, and striking autumn color. Usually, the plants grow from one to two feet and make an excellent slow-growing ground cover. The USDA determined that the blueberry contains the highest levels of antioxidants, these phytochemicals inhibit free radicals, which contribute to cancer and age-related diseases.

  • Location: Blueberries may be planted in rows, patches, or mixed plantings, and will do well in any spot where acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons or azaleas thrive. However, they do like as much sun as possible and fruit production will be better with more sunlight.
  • Soil: The growing area should be well drained and rich in organic matter with a pH of 4.0 to 5.0. The lower pH will also help to discourage weeds.  One pound of sulfur applied to 100 square feet of soil should lower the pH about 1 pH unit. The sulfur works best if it is tilled in the soil to about six inches.  To build up organic matter add peat moss, sawdust, or composted leaves to the soil. These additions will also help reduce the soil acidity. Blueberries require a sandy soil. If the soil is too heavy, the plants will not thrive. Coarse sand will improve drainage in heavy soils.
  • Planting: Bushes should be planted in a sunny location at 1 to 2 ft. apart. Dig a hole wider and deeper than your root ball.  Place the plant so that 1/3 of the top stems are covered by soil to encourage plant spread. Water thoroughly.  A mulch of peat moss, straw, sawdust, wood chips, or shavings, should be applied around plants to keep the blueberry’s shallow root system moist.
  • Growing: As hard as it may be, we suggest picking off the first year’s blossoms. This will divert the plant’s energy to forming a good root system and result in a stronger plant. Commercial growers may do this for as long as three to four years.
  • Fertilizing: The best fertilizer to use is one that contains a soluble ammonium nitrogen source such as Peters Azalea Special (21-7-7).   Organic gardeners may want to use cottonseed meal, a by-product of cotton manufacturing, which is high in nitrogen and has a low pH.
  • Watering: Remember, blueberries need regular watering through the growing season. Stressed plants grow and bear poorly. Drip irrigation works very well with blueberries.
  • Pollination: Blueberries need to be insect pollinated to produce fruit. Native bees may be sufficient, but for higher yields, you may need a honeybee hive.  Not all blueberry clones are self-fertile. For better pollination and larger fruit yields, it is best to plant at least two different seedling clones or varieties.
  • Pruning: Lowbush blueberry plants need to be pruned.  Production will decrease over time with the older growth. The most practical method is to mow them to the ground in the fall after leaf drop or in the spring before bud-break, but this will result in no production the first year, so do not prune all your plants the same year.  Commercial fields are pruned every other year, but you may want to prune less frequently, depending on how your production drops off.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2003

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