Reclaiming Wild Blueberry Land
Prepared by David E. Yarborough, Extension Blueberry Specialist, The University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469. February 2012.
The USDA Farmers Bulletin No. 1951 on Blueberry Growing indicated there were 150,000 acres of wild blueberry land in Maine in 1951. The last USDA census in 2007 listed 22,747 acres in crop, so there is now an estimated total of 50,000 acres of wild blueberry land in Maine. Unlike other crops, wild blueberries are not planted but managed from wild plants that are present in the forest understory. Given the much larger area that was in production the past, there is a potential for expanding our existing acreage in Maine as it has been done in Canadian wild blueberry fields. This process may take 10 years or more to bring the field into commercial production but once the field is established it can remain productive for more than a hundred years if managed properly.
Removal of Forest Over Story
It is important to cut and remove all vegetation taller than the blueberry because the wild blueberry plant needs 100% full sunlight. Conifers will be controlled by the cut but hardwood trees will sprout and continue to grow.
Controlling Woody Weeds
Depending on how long the field has been out of production and the size of the trees it will take several years to control these sprouts. The sprouts should be allowed to grow for two to three years to allow the wild blueberry to transition to the open and for the sprouts to get sufficient growth so that herbicides such as Roundup may be applied in a wiper application above the blueberry plants for the next two years to ensure that the stumps are completely dead. See the Fact Sheet No. 236, Weed Management in Wild Blueberry Field.
Leveling and Stump Removal
Land leveling should be done in such a fashion as to minimize the disturbance on the wild blueberry plants in order to maintain the wild blueberry field cover. It is best to wait a few years after clearing operations before leveling land. If not, the removal of fresh stumps will cause damage to too large an area around the stumps. Two crop cycles would be a suitable amount of time, and this would also give enough time to control the hardwood regrowth, which would make the stumps easier to pull. Land leveling should be limited to relatively moist field conditions since drought periods will cause the damaged or disturbed rhizomes to dry out. A surface mulch spread to the area between the wild blueberry plants will also encourage wild blueberry plants to spread. For more details see the Wild Blueberry Fact Sheet A.7.0.1, Levelling Land in Wild Blueberry Fields (PDF) (New Brunswick Canada website).
Pruning and Weed Control
Plants will then need to be pruned to the soil surface to encourage productive new stems from the wild blueberry rhizomes beneath the soil surface. Once the woody sprouts have been controlled and the land leveled then the other weed may be controlled with pre- and post-emergence applications of herbicides, for details, see the Fact Sheet No. 236, Weed Management in Wild Blueberry Fields.
Many studies over the years have indicated that supplemental irrigation of wild blueberry during dry periods of this two-year cycle can reduce crop failure and increase profitability by significantly improving both berry yield and quality. Installing irrigation after land-leveling will reduce the disturbance of the plants and allow for better establishment and produce larger and more consistent yields in future years. See for more details, see the Fact Sheet No. 631, Guide to Efficient Irrigation of the Wild Blueberry.
NRCS EQUIP Program
The National Resource Conservation Service has programs that provide cost-share funds for clearing, rock removal, mulching, and irrigation. These programs are administered through the county offices and will vary by year and county depending on the Farm Bill allocations and county priorities. Contact your county NRCS office for details.
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.
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