Native blueberry bushes can provide privacy, tasty treat

The blueberry is a shrub that produces very sweet, blue fruit in mid-summer. It is one of the few crops in commercial production today that is native to Georgia and the rest of the southeastern United States.

American Indians included the native blueberry in their diet, and early European settlers harvested the fruit - a close relative to the cranberry - for jams, pies and pastries.

Blueberries are very common in the home landscape, as well. The plant is useful in the landscape year-round and provides a tasty summer treat from the middle of June to the end of August.

Used as a hedge, blueberries can provide an excellent screen along property lines. Rows with shrubs planted 4 feet apart can be oriented to block unwanted views, line driveways or serve as a

barrier to unwanted foot traffic.

Growing blueberries

Blueberries require a soil pH of 4.0 to 5.3 for best growth. If your soil pH is in the range of 5.4 to 6.0, sulfur can be applied six months before planting to lower the pH.

If the initial soil pH is above 6.0, growing blueberries will be difficult unless massive amounts of peat moss or milled pine bark are mixed with the soil. You can find out what your soil pH is by taking a sample to your county extension office.

The standard spacing for rabbiteye blueberries is 6 feet apart in the row and 12 feet apart between rows. The standard spacing for the highbush cultivar is 4 feet apart in the row and 10 feet apart between rows.

Till the soil at least 8 inches deep in a band at least 4 feet wide. If the site is excessively wet, plant on a raised bed 6 to 12 inches high and 4 feet wide. Mix two to five gallons of wet peat moss or milled pine bark with the soil in each planting hole.

Do not use any agriculture lime; blueberries require an acid soil.

Caring for

blueberry plants

Do not apply any fertilizer at transplanting. After new growth begins, generally in March, and rain or irrigation settles the soil, apply 2 ounces of azalea special fertilizer (4-8-8) or 1 ounce of 12-4-8 or 10-10-10 per plant.

Refertilize at the same rate in May and July if rainfall or overhead irrigation has been good. In March and July of the second year, apply 2 ounces of 10-10-10 or 12-4-8 or 3 to 4 ounces of azalea special fertilizer (4-8-8).

For mulch, use 3 inches of pine straw or pine bark.

At planting, remove low twiggy growth entirely and tip remaining shoots to remove all the flower buds. The first year, remove any flowers or fruit that escaped the pruning process.

Blueberry plant sale

A good place to obtain some of these wonderful plants is the Gwinnett County Extension Service. Blueberry plants in 2-gallon containers are available for sale at a cost of $10.

Also available are blackberry and crape myrtle plants. Order forms can be found in the extension office, located on the fourth floor of the Gwinnett County Government Annex. Call the Gwinnett County Extension Service at 678-377-4010 or visit county.ces.uga.edu/gwinnett/events/plantsale.pdf.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.