How to Prep Blueberry Bushes

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits to grow and eat, as I revealed in a previous post "Top 10 Reasons to Grow Blueberries." Here in SE Tennessee, I start preparing for my summer blueberry crop months earlier, usually in February. It is best to do the necessary pruning, cleaning, and feeding while the plant is dormant.

I now have a dozen established blueberry bushes scattered in my gardens, with many different varieties suitable for growing in the South. It's hard to beat the nutritional value of wild blueberries, but they don't grow on my land so I'll happily settle for cultivars. The varieties best suited to our hot humid growing season don't seem to grow as fast from one year to the next as those I once grew in New Hampshire, perhaps because they prefer well-drained soil to our clay. But I'll settle for the great production of big sweet berries from my 12 bushes.

Here in Tennessee, I have bushes in all 3 southern varieties. Misty, a southern highbush type, is my earliest (and favorite) variety, so when it begins to show new growth I know it is time for prepping the blueberries. Here's what I do:
  • Clean away leaves, weeds, and anything else that covers the soil around the base of the blueberry bush. Be careful, blueberry roots grow near the top of the soil.
  • Cut off any branches, stems, or ends which are not showing any new growth, especially big old main stems. Cut off branches which are criss-crossing with other stems. Keeping the bush open and uncrowded helps keep it healthy in our hot humid growing season.
  • If the plant is sending up new suckers from the ground where you don't want it growing, cut them at the soil line.
  • Amend the soil with good compost, spreading below the bush out to the drip line
  • Blueberries prefer acid soil (pH 4.5 to 5.2). If your soil tests show more neutral soil, you can add garden sulphur to the ground to lower the pH.
  • Blueberries are sensitive to certain fertilizers. I prefer an organic slow-release fertilizer and I use Espoma Holly-Tone (4-3-4) since it is specifically for acid-loving plants. I sprinkle the amount required (based on the size of the bush) over the soil.
  • Blueberries are also high nitrogen-feeders, so you can add some cottonseed meal at any time.
  • Mulch the ground under the bush with pine straw, but keep it a few inches off the main stems. This will help control weeds and keep the ground insulated and moist during the growing season. Pine straw helps keep the pH in the acid range.
All your efforts now will reap great results come harvest time!