Plant Blueberries Now For Edible Landscape

Rafash E. Brew  |  12/23/2011 4:59:32 AM

Rafash Brew, Area Horticulture Specialist for the LSU AgCenter

By eating local fresh produce, consumers can increase chances of getting the highest nutritional value possible.  Based on data from the USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging (Boston, MA), blueberries are among the fruits with the highest antioxidant activity.  Using a test called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) researchers have shown that a serving of blueberries provides more antioxidant activity than many other fresh fruits and vegetables.  Why not grow your own in the landscape or garden?

Blueberries fit into any general home landscape design and can serve as hedges, borders or backgrounds.  Blueberries can also be used in cluster plantings or as single specimen plants.  Blueberries are an ideal year-round addition to the landscape with delicate white flowers in the spring, attractive blue fruit in the early summer and the possibility of colorful fall foliage.  Blueberry plants lend themselves to the "organic" approach of gardening because they typically have very few insect or disease problems and pesticides are rarely needed in home garden plantings.

The rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) is the primary species of blueberry grown in Louisiana.  Rabbiteye blueberries can be grown successfully in most areas of Louisiana, except in extreme coastal areas, where lack of sufficient cold to satisfy chilling requirements may limit production.

Blueberries should be planted in full sun for maximum yield, however fifty percent shade is usually acceptable.  Yield is reduced with increased shade.

Before planting blueberries, test the soil to determine the pH and amounts of phosphorus, potassium and organic matter present in the soil.  You can find out what your soil pH is by taking a soil sample to your local extension office.  Blueberries require a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.5 for best growth.  This pH is very similar to your azalea soil requirements.  Ideally, blueberry soil should contain high levels of organic matter.  The soil structure may be improved by incorporating organic materials such as peat, pine bark or leaf mold into the soil.

Because blueberries are extremely shallow rooted, they require between 1 and 1 3/4 inches of water per week during growing season, either from rainfall or irrigation.

The most important thing to remember when getting started with rabbiteye blueberries is to plant more than one variety within six feet of each other to insure cross pollination.  Much of the pollination is done by honey bees and bumble bees.  The pollinating variety has no influence on fruit yield and quality.

Gardeners can extend the availability of fresh nutritional fruits by selecting early, mid- and late-season varieties.  Austin, Climax and Premier are the earliest ripening rabbiteye varieties.  Southland and Tifblue ripen mid-season.  Baldwin, Centurion and Delite are the latest maturing varieties.  With early, mid-season and late varieties, you should enjoy fresh blueberries for six weeks.  With excellent care, mature rabbiteye plants should produce as high as 15 pints per plant.  

Do not apply any fertilizer at transplanting.  After new growth begins in the spring and rain or irrigation settles the soil, apply 2 ounces of azalea special fertilizer (4-8-8) or 1 ounce of 12-4-8 or 10-10-10 per plant.  Refertilize at the same rate in May and July if rainfall or irrigation has been adequate.

Get started now on your garden path to growing your own nutritional benefits for better health and living.

For more information or questions please call Rafash Brew, Regional Horticulture Specialist in your Union Parish Extension office branch of the LSU AgCenter at 318-368-9935.
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