The Second Year and Beyond…

Congratulations on a great first year!  Did you enjoy watching the plant grow? How many new branches developed?  Weren’t the leaves brilliant and red last autumn?  That’s one of the things I love about blueberry bushes.  They bloom spectacularly in the spring, give berries in the summer, and put on a blazing display come the fall.  What’s not to love?

Well, this year is the year you get to enjoy some of those yummy berries.  But there is much work yet to do (I don’t think of it as “work” but as a labor of love). 

It’s early March and the snow is still flying, the temperatures unpredictable and the thought of seeing anything green seems almost like a dream.  Yet, March is the time when you should apply your first of 3 or 4 fertilizer treatments for the year.  Wait until the snow is melted and there is only brown soil or mulch showing around your bush.  (if it snows on top of it that’s alright). Then sprinkle the fertilizer-acid soil maker recipe (see below) in a 2-4 foot radius all around the plant.  A good rule of thumb (literally) is to sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the recipe for every total thumb’s worth of the bush’s diameter.  In other words, look at all of the bush’s branching coming up from the ground.  Estimate, if you put them all together, what the diameter would be.  Typically, your first year will only be one “thumb’s worth” so therefore you will apply only one tablespoon to the bush.  (Remember what I said about over fertilizing! It can kill your plant.)  You will do this fertilizing somewhere around the beginning of March, again in 3-4 weeks, and again in 3-4 more weeks.  Then, wait until the blueberries are producing fruit (just forming and green) and sprinkle for the last time this year.  It is important when you fertilize that there is plenty of rain.  If there is a dearth of precipitation you will want to supplement with your garden hose.  Blueberries that get fertilized and have little water will be burned….and no, that is not a good thing.  And one more thing: Never, ever fertilize after July. The fertilizer will stimulate new growth and that growth will not get mature enough to make it through the winter, thus damaging your plant’s health.

The Fertilizer-Acid Soil Making Recipe

I have found over the years that the best way to produce healthy blueberry bushes which give you tons of delicious berries is to make sure that the soil is in the acidic range (4.5 pH).  The bush also needs adequate and slow released nitrogen.  I am sharing with you the recipe which we use on the farm.  It works here, in western Illinois.  Depending on where you are growing you may have to tweak the ratios. I use a 4:3:2 ratio of ammonium sulfate, (not aluminum sulfate!) ferrous sulfate, and elemental sulfur (in flour form).  Depending on the vitality of the bush, I will forego the ferrous sulfate and sulfur during the last application. Mix up the ingredients (they will be yellow when you are done) and sprinkle as needed (see above) – ideally right before a nice spring rain.  When you are applying the fertilizer-acid soil maker, make sure that the wind is relatively calm and you are upwind…. sulfur in the eye is unpleasant to say the least! And if you are having trouble finding the ingredients, please contact me and I can happily mix you up some.  For most folks with just one or two bushes, a peanut butter container of fertilizer-acid soil making powder will last several years. You’ll also find some in our store.