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How to Grow Blueberry Plants in Your Organic Garden - 5 Tips for Getting Loads of Blueberries

Blueberries are a wonderful addition to any organic garden. They are relatively pest and disease free and, given the right conditions, they will thrive with very little pampering, which is music to any organic gardener's ears. Here are some tips for getting the low-maintenance blueberry patch of your dreams. Grow Varieties That Are Well-Suited to Your Area and Your Needs

Blueberries can be grown as far North as USDA Zone 3 (Parts of the Northern US and Canada) and as far South as Zone 10 (Miami!, so gardeners in almost any climate can enjoy them. However, it is important to select a variety that can grow in your climate zone: the same blueberry plants that thrive in Maine will probably not fare well in Georgia. In general, organic gardeners in the Northern US should grow Northern Highbush varieties and Southerners (Zone 6 or warmer) should grow rabbiteye or Southern Highbush types. Gardeners in zones 6 or 7 (the Mid-Atlantic, North Carolina and parts of California and the Pacific Northwest) can grow both types.

Buy Healthy Plants

The plants you buy should be free of pests and disease, and should not appear drought-stressed. Blueberry plants may be sold as either container plants (in pots) or bare root. Both types of plants can be very healthy but container plants generally establish more easily than bare root plants. So, if you have a nearby source for healthy container-grown plants, take advantage of it. However, for the sake of convenience (and of avoiding shipping charges that are greater than the national debt), most blueberries are sold as bare root plants. If you buy bare root plants, just make sure that their roots have been kept moist and that they have not been stored in direct sunlight or excessive heat. If they meet with your approval, plant them right away.

Don't Buy Plants That Are Too Old or Too Young.

Two or three-year old plants are the best ones to buy. Plants that are any younger than two or older than three are more likely to suffer from water stress during their first growing season and will require a lot of extra TLC on your part.

Select a Good Planting Site and Get It Ready for Your Organic Blueberries

Blueberries will be relatively weed, pest and trouble free if they have the right growing conditions. Mainly, all that they ask is to be grown is acidic, well-drained soil. They can tolerate heat, cold and part shade, but they really dislike poorly drained soil or soils with a pH above 5.5. So, in order to make your blueberries happy, you may have to reduce you soil's pH (this can be done organically by using peat moss, pine straw or sulfur) and/or build raised beds for them if you don't have a dry spot to plant them in.

Give Your Plants the Care They Need to Establish Correctly

The first season after planting is critical for your blueberry plants. Their yields can be reduced for years to come if they don't get off on the right foot (or root!). Good care starts before you even put them into the ground: make sure to score the root ball of any container-bound plants (the ones whose roots go around and around in circles inside a too-small container) so that they will be able to stop growing in circles.

Pruning your new plants will help them to get established. Prune half to two-thirds of the plant's shoots, leaving only a few (3-4) strong, healthy shoots for the plant to dedicate its energy to. Make sure to remove any buds or fruits that develop during the plant's first year or two--yes, it takes a lot of will power, but you will be rewarded with bigger, higher-yielding plants in the long run.

Most importantly, keep your new plants watered so that their delicate new root systems stay moist. Water them with a hose if you need to, or install a drip or microsprinkler irrigation system for them. Remember that watering them occasionally (not more than once every two days) and thoroughly is much healthier for them than watering them lightly and frequently.

Give your blueberry plants a good start in life, and they will reward you with pounds and pounds of blueberries, beautiful fall foliage and the thrill of your own "Blueberry Hill".

Finch Nursery Grows and Sells Many Varieties of Quality Blueberry Plants
NC Cooperative Extension's guide to growing blueberries in the home garden.
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