If you were lucky enough to have grown up with blueberry bushes, you understand the delicious and nostalgic experience of eating hot, buttery pancakes laced with tasty berries that you picked just minutes before. This is no doubt an experience you'd like to share with your own children. For the best blueberries, you probably already know that it's important to implement a regular program of fertilization. Holly-tone, an Espoma Company product, can play an important role in blueberry bush success.
Native to eastern North America, most blueberry varieties, wild and cultivated, grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 7. A few cultivars grow to USDA. zone 9. Ninety percent of America's wild blueberry crop grows in the rocky blueberry barrens of Maine, indicating the bush's preference for acidic, peaty soils that are moist, but well-draining. Full sun and regular, moderate rainfall or irrigation guarantee blueberry's best performance.
While blueberries' nutritional needs are moderate, proper soil acidity -- 4.5 to 5.5 pH -- is essential to blueberry nutrient intake. Holly-tone contains 5 percent sulfur to slightly acidify soil and increase its efficacy. Soils rich in clay and organic matter are usually acidic enough for blueberries. If you have a poor, rocky site, soil amendment may be needed to adjust pH. A soil test conducted by your county's agricultural extension office will determine your soil's pH and amendment recommendations for blueberry culture.
For established blueberries, spread about 1 cup Holly-tone under the canopy of each shrub. Gently scratch the granules into the soil or mulch with your fingers or a three-pronged, handheld cultivator. Apply or replenish a 1-inch layer of mulch to conserve moisture. Get the nutrients moving by applying an inch or so of water. Holly-tone has natural ingredients that release nutrients slowly, so you only need to fertilize twice a year -- once in early spring and then in late fall, before the ground freezes. Let new blueberry plantings establish for a year before fertilizing.
In soils with high clay content, such as those often found in the southeastern United States, building a raised bed 9 inches high and 4 feet wide can solve drainage problems. This is also helpful for growing blueberries in the high-alkaline soils often found in the American west. Create a loamy soil made from sand or gravel mixed with one-third humus or peat moss. Blueberries can also be grown in containers if you keep up with regular watering. Never use crushed limestone or marble chips, which can raise soil pH.