When establishing blueberries, the most important thing is to test the pH of the soil. Blueberries like the pH to be close to 5.0. They’ll take between 4.8 and 5.2, or even as high as 5.5. The soil in Kansas tends to be much higher than that – usually around 6.5 in the NE part of the state. And, in western Kansas you’ll find levels at 7.5, 8.0 or higher. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to grow them in western Kansas.
Even in the eastern part of the state, normally you’ll need to drop the pH. If the pH is at 6.5, you’ll need to get it down to 5.0. Applying sulfur will help get the pH down to the proper level, but it takes time. With blueberries, its best to start a year ahead before you intend to plant. If you can get all your preparation done the year before, you’ll have much more success than if you try to plant them the same year you do your prep.
This is what we call pelletized sulfur. Having it in a pellet form allows us to spread it much easier than with a dust form of sulfur. It needs to be tilled in so that the sulfur can modify the top six to eight inches of soil.
Other prep work to consider is good week control. If you have any perennial weeds such as bindweed or Bermuda, it may take a full year to get the weeds under control. So, it’s important to do that.
And, you should also add organic matter. Blueberries like lots of organic matter. Again, it should be done the year before so that when you’re ready to plant the second year everything will be perfect for those plants to get a good start.
Make sure you start with good, clean material. Buy plants from a reputable nursery where they guarantee that those plants are going to be virus and disease free. If you bring in clean plants, you won’t have many problems with disease.
We don’t have a problem here with insects or disease, but with birds. Birds like blueberries. Therefore, if you don’t net the plants, you’ll often have problems with the birds eating the blueberries before you can pick them.
This feature story prepared with Ward Upham, Kansas State University Research and Extension Research Assistant. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.