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Need advice about growing blueberries in Utah

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

They say nobody can do it--grow blueberries in Utah, that is. I have to try.

I planted 6 bareroot bushes (4 different kinds) from Nourse Farms last spring in raised beds filled with topsoil mix, peat moss and acid potting soil. I added sulfur as recommended by Nourse and mulched them with wood chips. I did not allow them to bloom and produce berries last year to encourage root development and new growth. I insulated the raised beds and protected the plants from wind in the winter. NONE of them died. I was amazed.

This year only 2 plants show any new shoots coming up from the ground and they have a fair amount of berries. Some of the plants look worse than they did last year--a bit yellow and with no berries. Two others that have berries have no new shoots.

Should I cut off all the berries again this year?

Last year I just watered them with our regular old alkaline Utah water. A local nurseryman told me that the only hope I had was to add sulfur to the water. Sooo-somehow I got DH interested in building a water tower near the raised beds with a 55gallon tank to which I can add liquid sulfur and iron. It is set up with a timer and soaker hoses.

What more can I do----besides move to Washington? Do you think my sickly-looking plants have any hope?

I know what you're thinking--it's called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder! I know all about it. If only someone hadn't told me I couldn't do it!

Baltimore, MD

The most important thing you need to do is to monitor the soil pH, and add more sulpur to the soil if it is above 5. You should be able to grow blueberries there with a pH meter and a big enough bag of sulphur. I would also check the pH of the water in your system, and make sure it is not alkaline; if it is, add more sulphur.

If a plant is looking unhealthy I would pull the berries now; otherwise it doesn't matter too much if they stay on or not.

Scott

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Thanks. I will pick a few green blueberries tomorrow.

I don't know if my pH meter is good enough. I got it from Heirloom Seeds, I think. The instructions from Nourse Farms said the pH had to be 4.5 - 4.8 but when I called them they said that pH did not have to be achieved immediately. Apparently the pH where they are in Massachusetts was not within the required range for about 5 years. I have to wonder what their plants looked like during the time of adjustment.

I bought a 50 lb bag of sulfur for $8.00 that should last a while. It was a lot cheaper than the small bags at the nurseries. It is 90% sulfur. I was told not to use aluminum or ammonium sulfate

I didn't mention that I also planted several other locally purchased blueberries in holes that were about 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep. They were filled with the same mixture as the raised beds. They are more of a wild blueberry. Again, some of them have done well and some not. The nursery where I bought them doesn't even sell blueberries this year.

What do you use to fertilize the blueberries?

The nursery owner who suggested the liquid sulfur with irob said his daughter tested the water and the pH was a whopping 8.5. I live about 20 miles from there.

Denver, CO(Zone 6a)

We have the same problem with blueberries here in Colorado. Not the ph in the soil but in the water.

Poquoson, VA(Zone 7b)

This is my first year with blueberries, so I don't have much advice except to tell you that the nursery where I got my bushes said to use any fertilizer labeled for 'Rhododendrons, Azaleas & other acid-loving plants'. I found some stakes at walmart that I'm using for now that my bushes seem to like so far. Of course, our soil is naturally somewhat acidic.

Barnesville, GA

I'd like to second that comment by Backyard Zoo about using fertilizer labled for Rhododendrons, Azaleas & other acid-loving plants....that's all we've ever used -- and not regularly at that. I believe we are supposed to fertilize twice a year, but are lucky if we do it once....and the kind we use is liquid...which we mix with water

We mulch our blueberries with pine straw -- when we lived in the west, pine needles were something that we raked and discarded -- here in Georgia, we actually BUY bales of it and it's called "pine straw". If pine straw isn't sold where you live, you might be able to find a neighbor who would be thrilled for you to collect it. It's not ground up, the mulch is just the pine NEEDLES and a thick layer of those. We keep a HEAVY layer of pine straw on our blueberries at all times ---carefully taking off the "old" pine straw and putting on the new stuff just before winter. I believe that pine straw is acidic....and the extra padding of this pine straw has seen our blueberries safely even through ice storms.

Basically, (unlike the rest of our garden) our blueberries gardening is more of a sort of laissez-faire situation and they've done very well -- possibly having the water go through the pine needles has acidified the water...though I have no way of knowing if this is so...only a suspicion..

Mainly we just rely on rain, instead of watering, but lately it's been dry and so we've hooked up our soaker hose...we LEAVE a soaker hose which is about a food away from the base of each of the bushes, and then when we feel the need to water, we just connect up the soaker hose. We leave the soaker hose so that neither the berries nor the shrubs are disturbed when we water, and the bushes get a slow drip from the soaker hose.

I don't know if any of the above will help you -- but I sure wish you success with your blueberries...

Denver, CO(Zone 6a)

Here's something that might be good

"In the ground or in containers, remember that most local tap water is slightly alkaline. Just watering the plants can negate previous attempts to acidify the soil. To reduce pH, try adding vinegar (a weak acid) to irrigation water. All of these efforts might allow blueberries to bear fruit, but they might be very expensive blueberries!"


from
http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/4DMG/VegFruit/Fruits/blueberr.htm

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Mobi - bless you. Vinegar will be a lot less expensive than the sulfur/iron mix I was going to use. Of course, I do have the 1 gallon bottle I already bought. Nourse Farms recommends granules that are 90% sulfur so I have used that instead of other mixtures for Azaelas. Maybe I should switch.

Zebbie - I put pine needles in the bottom of the holes and the raised beds when I planted the blueberries. I will try mulching them in the winter. I did hear that the pine needles we have in our part of the country do not decompose as readily as the pine needles in other areas so they are not considered as good for acidifying the soil. I went to our local cemetery and collected bags of pine needles before I heard that. I still have a lot of them from year before last. Do you think it would still be okay to use them? They have been kept in plastic bags.

We have our water tower all set up with a timer and soaker hoses. I read the directions on the sulfur/iron solution. It said to "shake well". Hmmmm. Does that mean the liquid I add to the 55 gallon drum will settle to the bottom? Picture this: Me shaking a 55 gal drum twice a week before the timer turns on to water the blueberries.

Just how far am I willing to go to grow my own blueberries?

Barnesville, GA

I'm sorry I know nothing about the pine needles in different parts of the country -- but frankly I, personally, would be hesitant to use some that had been kept in plastic bags -- fearful of some kind of disease.

We didn't intend using pine needles(or water going through them) to acidify the soil but rather to protect the bushes. We use the heavy layer of DRIED pine needfles winter and summer....where we live in Georgia, pine needles are used this way year round (but we do change them once a year). We mulch everything in our garden with pine needles (tomato plants, squash, etc) -- for the above reasons but also to prevent the various blights which I understand comes from water splashing up the dirt onto plants in our area.

Maybe someone who is more knowledgeable than I am could chime in as to whether heavily mulching in the summer is a good idea or not for Linda...while it seems to work well for us. Would this kind of mulching reduce evaporation and require less of a need for the local akaline water -- and the de-acidification of the soil through such watering while keeping the points moist enough to grow, but not harming them with greater disease potential?

What I mean is -- are there down sides (diseases, etc.) to this (mulching summer and winter) for Linda to try year round mulching with pine needles.

I believe I heard once that blueberry bushes root VERY shallow, but wide....perhaps the depth of the roots have a bearing on successful growing. Blueberries are grown commercially all around where we live.

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

Actually, most of us in the east have soils that naturally suit blueberries. There are exceptions in the case of limestone soils in parts of the appalachians. Linda is attempting to grow an acid loving plant in an alkaline environment. Both the soil and water is alkaline. This will require fairly drastic intervention, which she is trying. Assuming that other desired nutrients are in place, it will still require constant acidification. Pinestraw is a great mulch, for areas natural to blueberries. They will not remedy an alkaline soil. Here in Georgia we have naturally acid soils, so we spend our money on lime for the majority of crops. Our rainfall is also acidic. Linda, good luck on your quest, I am sure that you realize by now, that it "ain't" gonna be easy. But it is not impossible. Just remember that the tricks we in native blueberry country use are not going to be sufficient for your situation.

Denver, CO(Zone 6a)

I have my experiments. I am trying to grow blackberries, which are difficult to grow here.

Hopkinsville, KY(Zone 6b)

While pine straw is an excellent mulch for blueberries - or any other acid-loving shrub, like azaleas & rhododendrons - they don't really acidify the soil. Too many folks buy into that myth, confusing association with causation. Pines will grow on some really poor, acidic soils, but the needles accumulating on the ground beneath them didn't cause the soil to become acid.
They do have a resinous coating which slows decomposition, and yes, decomposing pine needles(and oak leaves, for that matter) do produce some organic acids at some point in the process, but it's not enough to significantly impact pH - and eventually, composted leaves/needles will have a slightly alkaline pH.

My buddy the Jellyman uses iron sulfate for his blueberries, and yes, it will settle out - does not go into solution so much as it's just a suspension - so you have to keep stirring/agitating while you're applying it. I see no problem with ammonium sulfate, but would shy away from aluminum sulfate.

Denver, CO(Zone 6a)

Be careful which iron sulfate you use. Ironite has a lot of lead and arsenic in it and isn't recommended. Just fyi

"It is made by the Ironite Products Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz., using as raw materials the tailings from an abandoned lead and zinc mine. Due to its high levels of lead and arsenic, Ironite can not be used in Canada. Last year, Washington State officials issued a warning to consumers that Ironite could be "dangerous" and that ingestion of less than half a teaspoon could be toxic to small children. Using too much Ironite for only two years, state officials said, could make a back yard as contaminated as a hazardous waste site. As a result of these findings, Ironite reduced the product's recommended application rate -- but not its toxicity -- to comply with Washington State regulations."

from
http://www.ewg.org/reports/asyousow/ExecSumm.html

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Eeeeek! Am I growing poison blueberries. I feel like the Aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace. What I have is made by fertilome and is called Soil Acidifier Plus Iron.

Ingredients are Zinc, Sulfur, Magnesium and Copper. It says it is developed for acid loving plants including fruit trees and vegetables. Also states: ferti-lome Soil Acidifier Plus Iron helps in growin acid loving plants in alkaline type soils thus allowing you to grow a wider variety of plants, trees, shrubs and vegetables.

Analysis is 0-0-0. Sulfur 3.00%. Copper .60%.Iron 4.50%. Magnesium .50%.
Derived from Magnesium Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate and Copper Sulfate.

I really appreciate everyone's input. Please look over these ingredients and tell me if I'm going to poison anyone. And then--if it is really wrong to use this--how am I going to tell DH that he has to take down his water tower? Mobi, can I come and stay at your house for a couple of weeks until he peels himself off the ceiling?

This message was edited Jun 16, 2006 10:30 AM

Denver, CO(Zone 6a)

I think what they are most concerned about in the Ironite is lead, arsenic, and mercury in excessive doses. Derived from "using as raw materials the tailings from an abandoned lead and zinc mine". I think they are concerned about IRONITE brand specifically and not all products containing iron. So don't panic yet, you probably haven't turned your yard into a hazardous waste zone. LOL.

At the other end, the manufacturers of Ironite refuse to accept that their product is doing any harm and still sell it in states that allow it.

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

Agreed, Soil acidifiers are quick fixes for soil alkalinity and work pretty well. If we were really paranoid, we would not be sitting in front of a computer for hours. Ironite (Brand name) is controversial but not usually sold as a soil acidifier. Mostly touted for greening up lawns. Again it is because of the source of raw materials which contain lead. The sulphur is the acidifier as it oxidizes and combines with water to form sulphurous acid. You can add elemental sulphur to achieve the desired results, it jus takes longer. Soil acidifiers like Fertilome and Green light are in liquid form and already contain soluble sulphates.

Bonners Ferry, ID

Have done all that Lindalooney has done -- also live in north idaho -- problems is, plants don't seem to grow vigorously, and have pinkish to burgandy colored leaves. Thoughts???? Timberjock.

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Timber - I had pinkish to burgandy leaves last year, too. This year I have not had that.

I have been in Alaska for 12 days and just got back. I was amazed at how much better my blueberries look. This year I gave them a dose of 16:16:8 fertilizer in early May along with 1/2 cup of 90% sulfur granules. I didn't see much improvement. In June I gave each plant some plain old Nitrogen and started watering with the fertilome acidifier with iron.
Something has certainly helped.

Salt Lake City, UT(Zone 6a)

I tried to grow blue berries gave up - not suited to our region went to Juneberries more nutrients and suitable to the point they are actually fairly drought tolerant. If I tried blueberries again it would be only in a container. Did an internet search for the lower two comments...

Similar to a blueberry in looks and taste, the fruit hangs in clusters from spreading, open, vase-shaped bushes which vary in height from 6-10 feet (most Amelanchier alnifolia) to 20-25 ft. (Autumn Brilliance) Suckering, or sprouting stems from the root, is considered a desirable quality, since it increases the fruit capacity of the bush.

Serviceberries aka juneberries have been found to be higher in levels of protein, fat, fiber, calcium, magnesium, manganese, barium, and aluminum when compared with blueberries or strawberries. Juneberries are also a source of manganese, magnesium, and iron for the human diet.

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Thanks for the info MQN. I agree that blueberries are not suited to our climate. It's just that somebody told me it couldn't be done--so of course, I have to try.

I actually have a Serviceberry (treeform) in my yard. My mother used to call them Sarviceberries. I think they are the same thing. Are they as sweet as a blueberry?

I bought the tree at a nursery in Perry, but I didn't see any bushes. Maybe I just need to go look again. Where did you get your bushes and how much will one bush produce?

Do you really like them as well as blueberries?

Salt Lake City, UT(Zone 6a)

No they are not as sweet I got mine from Raintree last year. A mature bush will produce a substantial amount which is good because the birds LOVE them. They can be called saskatoons, juneberries or serviceberries and I do prefer blueberries but remind myself they are better for me. When I make chocolate chip cookies I will substitute 1/2 the chips for raisins I do the same with blueberrie recipes (1/2 and 1/2) that way nobody really notices.

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Don't you hate it when something that is better for you doesn't taste as good?!!

The rule is: If it tastes good, spit it out.

I actually have quite a few blueberries this year. It has been a very expensive experiment but I think it can be done. They probably won't produce as well, but I think they can do okay. The plants are putting on a lot of growth right now and are much greener. I really think it's the sulfur in the water. I wonder if I can put enough granular sulfur in the soil to overcome the pH of the water. The liquid sulfur is expensive. The granular was $8.00 for a 50 pound bag.

I know of one man who lives in Brigham City who was the county extension agent for a while and he grew blueberries. That is the only encouraging thing I have heard about growing them in this area.

Salt Lake City, UT(Zone 6a)

Well keep it up - I may try again soon if you continue having success. Are you netting them? Wondering if the birds get your crop as fast as they hit mine. If I do try again I am thinking I will probably get some kind of "dwarf" blueberry for a container, so if anyone has any recommendation of variety or nursery....

Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

Very interesting thread. I have five small blueberry bushes. One has lots of blueberries, the others are very small becausemy herd of cottontail rabbits ate them almost to the ground last winter. I have a more or less portable, cage, made out of pvc pipe and covered with bird netting. It just covers my short row of blueberry plants and is very light weight. So last fall without thinking about the rabbits I move the cover a shortdistance away near my redwood fence so that the wind wouldn't blow it over.

And I do have the same problem as several of you with very alkaline water and soil and use pretty much the same methods as mentioned to try to make the soil more acidic.

I also have 1 large amelancheir, sarviceberry shrub, alnifolia, the local native one. It is always loaded with fruit but I never get any to eat since it is one the birds favorites. Also have a Amelanchier Forest Prince, it is a pretty tree with its colorful foliage, and the birds love it too and have eaten all the fruit already.

I will take a couple of photos and send along. Donna

Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

For some reason when I tried to get my photos up loaded, all the computer would do is tell me couldn't make contact with camera. I tried several times and then gave up. Went for a drive up in the hills and only took my older Camedia camera along. Haven't used it for some time and of course after I took 7 pictures the battery was exhausted.

Was an interesting drive anyway, saw quite a few birds, saw a coyote runn across the road in front of me, then a deer in nearby field. Then on down the road after I got on paved road a big black bear went across the road, and of course I got no chance to take pictures of any.

Anyway here is a photo of my largest blueberry shrub which is loaded with berries , more than what it looks like.

Donna

Thumbnail by rutholive
Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

Here is a not too clear photo of the cage covering the 5 blueberry plants. Donna

Thumbnail by rutholive
Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

Last photo, this is of the Service berry shrub, which is quite large now. It is 12 years old. The birds have eaten most of the fruit now.

Donna

Thumbnail by rutholive
Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Donna, great pictures. You don't seem to be having too many problems with alkaline soil and water. Have you tested them?

Do you like blueberries or Serviceberries better?

If I get my blueberries producing well I'm going to have to have a cage over them to keep out the kritters. I'm not in the sharing mood when it comes to blueberries. Considering how much I have spent, they are about $50.00 a cup.

We are having a problem with the 55 gal. water tower. It is not a pressurized system. When the drum is full a timer will turn it on, but when the time is up there isn't enough pressure in the system to shut it off. It needs pressure to turn it on and shut it off. Didn't know that until now. But at least we can mix the sulfur/iron liquid in the drum and turn it on and off ourselves. It works better the more water that's in it. Otherwise we would be mixing the solution one gallon at a time and that would be an even bigger pain.

Right now the plants are looking pretty good. The ones in the raised beds are doing better than the ones in the ground.

Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

I much prefer the blueberries. So I let the birds have the service berries without argument.. Right now the birds are eating the service b. , the mulberries and lots of my blackcap raspberries and what is left of the cherries in the top of the tree. So they are eating better than I am.

Sorry you are having problems with your water tower. Hope you can work it out. Too much alkalinity is a problem. I have had my soil tested commercialy and have made several home tests. Just wish it were easier to make the soil more acid for the plants that need it.

Donna

Point Roberts, United States

Hi Donna,

Is that Amelanchier photo of A. alnifolia or 'Forest Prince'? How prolific is the Forest Prince's fruit?

Thanks,
Brad

Fairfield County, CT(Zone 6b)

I feed my blueberries coffee grounds and old coffee after it gets too cold to drink. Even went so far as to get a chef neighbor to bring me home pounds and pounds of coffee grounds from his restaurant. Grounds are high in acid and make an attractive mulch that actually smells good.

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

I'm thinking of going to a local restaurant and begging for coffee grounds. They'll think I'm crazy. Do I care? Eeeeek.

Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

aquilegia, The photo is of amelancheir alnifolia. underplanted with lilyof the-valley. I have 5 diferent blueberry bushes, but only one is large enough this year to have a crop pf berries. The darn rabbit ate the others down too low. I've picked a quart and half off the one tho and still quite a few green ones.

I get coffee grounds from the senior center. I took a covered pail to the center and when it is full I bring it home scatter on the compost piles and take it back to be refilled.

Donna

Aurora, CO(Zone 5a)

I've heard that Starbucks happily gives away coffee grounds to gardening customers. Haven't tried that myself, though.

I wanted to start growing blueberries this year, but didn't make a go of it in time. I absolutely want to do it next year. I have been thinking, though, of putting the bushes into a container so I have better control over the soil and amendments.

And I'd have to use netting or something. The birds can have my choke cherries, but they sure aren't getting my blueberries! I love blueberries too much.

Fairfield County, CT(Zone 6b)

Starbuck's! Yippee! There is one on my way home from work - I'm going to ask them for their grounds. Since I moved, I've had to make do with my neighbor's grounds and he doesn't drink enough coffee for all my plants! Thanks White_Hydrangea!

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

White-Hydrangea - Two local nurseries told me that blueberries don't like to be put in containers. One said that we should dig a hole four feet wide and four feet deep. DH told me that if I wanted a divorce I could ask him to do it!!!!! We have the hardest rock and clay dirt you could ever find.

I got most of my blueberry plants from Nourse Farms. They have a guide about planting that could be helpful to you. It can be accessed from their website and they send it when you get the plants. Their blueberry plants were large and well-rooted--and much less expensive than places like Wayside and Parks who want $15 for a 3" pot!! I think I spent just over $7 for them.

Nourse recommends digging a hole only 1' x 1' and ammending the soil in it. 90 % sulfur granules need to be added a couple of times a year. I'm sure you've read what I have had to do about the watering.

My plants are looking MUCH better. At this point the berries are still about $300.00 a cup, but well worth it. LOL

Someone else D-mailed me and said they planted their blueberries in a bale of peat moss that was put in a trench. The picture he sent looked like the plant was doing well. If anyone wants instructions on that I can find them.

Hopkinsville, KY(Zone 6b)

Something I missed first time out - Zebbie, why in the world would you remove the old pine needles, and not just put new ones on top? Those decomposing old needles are just helping to add more organic material to your soil, improving soil structure and moisture-holding capacity.

Of course, I mulch for utility, and not aesthetics - never have understood these folks who'll pay a 'landscape' service to come in and rake out all their nice aged mulch, haul it away, and put down new mulch every spring. Why not just topdress with a thin layer of 'new' stuff, if you must have that look?

Salt Lake City, UT(Zone 6a)

Its a gardening fallacy that coffee grounds add acidity to the soil after they have been used to make coffee they are pretty much neutral. Still a good addition just do not expect any ph change from them. I wonder why I see so many offerings of dwarf blueberries "perfect for containers" in my various catalogs, I have learned not to believe everything automatically but doing some research helps and then I come to you guys and find out the real truth. I was thinking of buy one of the dwarf's thru Gurney's (have a store credit) anyone out there familiar?

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

I got my information about not growing blueberries in containers from J&L Nursery in Bountiful and Jerry's Nursery in Ogden. They were not selling the dwarf plants that are offered by Gurney and other mail-order nurseries. The root system of the larger berries can stretch out to 4 feet, so they wouldn't be appropriate for a container. The dwarf plants might do okay because I would assume their root systems are smaller. I thought about buying one myself.

Glad to know about the coffee grounds. I guess I'll stick to leaves, peat moss and mulch.

Salt Lake City, UT(Zone 6a)

That makes sense - thanks Linda. But now you got me wondering what if this is just something they advertise to sell ... could be like those horrible ads you see for the tomatoe/potatoe plant - you know the one that claims you can grow potatoes on the roots and tomatoes up above. Maybe more research before I commit. I sometimes think I am more of a shopaholic then a gardener...

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