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Gardening in Gwinnett: Blueberries are an excellent fruit for the homeowner to grow

Blueberries are one of the few crops in production today that are native to Georgia. The plant is quite common in the home garden, and has several uses.

It can be grown as a hedge to screen out unsightly views, line driveways and the sides of homes, or serve as a barrier. And of course, blueberries provide a tasty treat in mid-summer that has many culinary uses.

There are two types of blueberries grown here in Georgia.

Rabbiteye blueberries are the easiest to grow since they are the most adaptable, productive and pest-free of the two.

Southern highbush blueberries need high amounts of organic matter soil (at least 3 percent), and are very susceptible to being eaten by wildlife because they ripen early in the season.

The latter are better off commercially grown, and are not recommended for homeowners.

Blueberries need at least six to eight hours of sun a day.

They require moist but well-drained soils with organic matter added such as peat moss, compost or manure.

The plants grow best in acidic soils with a pH 4.0 to 5.3. If the soil is above this range, apply wettable sulfur (90 percent sulfur) or aluminum sulfate in the soil. Consider having your soil tested through Gwinnett County Extension for the cost of $8.00 per sample. Call the Extension office for more information.

Do not fertilize when the shrub is being planted. After new growth begins in March, apply one ounce of 12-4-8, 10-10-10, or azalea special fertilizer at 4-8-8. Refertilize again in May if the plant receives adequate amounts of water.

Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18 inches in diameter, and do not over fertilize. Apply three inches of pine bark or pine straw mulch.

Blueberries produce their fruit from buds on 1-year-old wood, so they should be pruned enough to encourage the production of vigorous new growth each year.

Remove the low spreading branches and those growing through the center of the bush, especially weak and older ones.

When the fruits are growing on the plant, consider placing a plastic cloth over the bushes to protect them from birds. Fortunately, pests seldom trouble blueberries.

Blueberries of different cultivars need to be planted for good pollination and fruit set.

Early producing cultivars include "Climax," "Brightwell" and "Premier." Midseason varieties include "Bluebell," "Tiftblue" and "Powderblue," and the late season varieties include "Delite," "Baldwin" and "Centurion."

Blueberries, if planted and maintained properly, are a relatively easy fruit to grow in the home garden. A good opportunity to purchase some of these plants, as well as other types of plants such as crape myrtles and blackberries, is through the annual Gwinnett County Extension plant sale.

Order forms may be obtained at your Extension office located on the fourth floor of the Gwinnett County Government Annex or by calling the Gwinnett County Extension Service at 678-377-4010, or visiting the Gwinnett County Extension Web site at www.gwinnettextension.org. Click on "events" and you will find the plant sale order form.

Timothy Daly, MS 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.