Blueberries in Al's Mix

cebury(9)January 10, 2010

Having read the last 30 "blueberries" posts, you see the same questions asked over and over about this time of year. As far as mix, ph, and fertilizer go, I'll ask the same ole' questions in statement form ;-).

Am I correct to assume the 5:1:1 mix, replacing lime w/gypsum, using adequate vinegar with (nearly) each watering, and Foliage Pro with the occasional epsom salts is fine for blueberries?

This doesn't sound any different than what I'm doing for my citrus in gritty mix, other than using the 511 (starting out approx. 1 pH point lower) and adding a little more vinegar.

I have barrels of gritty available atm, but don't have any 511 -- I think I have MG Sphagnum Peat Moss (big green bag) and a bag of perlite, which is the main difference between the two?

I assume the disadvantage to using the gritty mix is the easier risk of drying out the sensitive roots and to a lesser extent a higher starting pH (6 minus)? Perhaps another disadvantage is the gritty doesn't provide as much anchoring (I noticed excessive trunk movement in young citrus with lower root mass), but this is an assumption as I've never used 511.



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Hello Chris. You don't need vinegar if you use rain water. But where you are rain may not be as plentyfull. Don't use foliage pro. Use Miracid, with the epsom salts. I think the gritty would work well. But I have my ten in the 511. People who know more than I will chime in and help you. filix.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 3:48PM
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imstillatwork(8-9 Oregon Coast / Ca Border)

Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I have a 4' tall plant in a 20" container with bark based mix (not 'Al's Mix' I didn't know it then) and I use foliage pro. It had an abundant crop. It was only 2' tall the previous year.

How important is a higher pH for blueberries really? do the need it, or do are they simply not effected negatively by it?

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 6:15PM
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My ten blueberries are in 15,20, and 30 gal containers. This summer will be their third. They are doing very well. Ph is very important to blueberries. They do their best in a good draining soil with a ph of 4.8-5.0 in the ground. containers are different. You dont want a soil with a high ph. But its the ph of the water you give them thats more important. You don't want a fertilizer with nitrate. filix.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 7:06PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Felix,
I am just now getting ready to mix some of Als mixes, and will be ordering blueberries this week.

So, are you saying to go ahead with the gypsum, And can you share what kind of fertilizer you use. I need to get some this week and am looking for ideas.


    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 7:29PM
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Foliage Pro gets most of it's N from nitrate whereas the Miracle Grow type powders get most from urea. The studies I have seen indicate that blueberries generally don't respond as well to nitrate and they do urea/ammoniacal forms of N.

This would suggest MG type ferts are superior to Foliage Pro for blueberries. How much of a real world difference does it actually make in a container? No idea.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 7:31PM
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I use miracle-grow for azalea, camellia, rhododendron. 1/4 strenth. Blueberries don't like alot at once, less is more. I also add a half of tlb spoon of epsom salt in the watering can with every feeding. I feed them once a week. When you make your soil, don't use lime. use gypsum. Hope this helps. filix.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 10:15PM
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Thanks all,
I couldn't find the post, but I mentioned using FP for BB b/c I recalled Al stating an apropos position on using it, the plant chemistry behind it supportive even though some portion was Nitrate. Do not quote me on that since that's memory recall from like a year ago, but JaG perhaps that explains why ImStillAtWork is having good "real world" results? The cursory BB instructionals blanket state nitrates kill 'em, but I certainly believe what you're telling me over those things.

At the box stores here in central CA, the water soluble Miracid packaging has been renamed to what Filix noted above "Miracle Grow for Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron".

I was hoping someone would comment on experience using the gritty mix for BB's -- since the 511 mix doesn't "optimally" last more than a season, correct?

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 12:34AM
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I was hoping someone would comment on experience using the gritty mix for BB's -- since the 511 mix doesn't "optimally" last more than a season, correct?

Correct, but that is only due to the lack of stability in the peat. It degrades quickly. Remove the peat and you now have a mix that should remain structurally stable for 2 years or more. Odds are you will end up wanting to repot, check out the roots in that time frame anyway.

I have grown BB in pots, but don't any longer due to having trouble overwintering them. I now just grow them in the ground. I have zero experience trying to grow them in the gritty mix or 511 mix.

All I can really say is that if I were to do BB in pots again I would more than likely try 3 parts bark, 1 part Turface as a starting point. Plenty of acidity from the bark. I would not lime the mix, but use gypsum. The thing is, BB don't necessarily have an issue with neutral pH, they have an issue with nutrient uptake.

In their natural state BB have evolved to live with symbiotic fungi that simply can't be expected in containers. They do not do well with nitrates and prefer ammoniacal N. Low pH suppresses the natural nitrogen cycle which sees N go from ammonia to nitrite to nitrate to gas. It tends to keep N in the form of ammonia.

BB also don't do well with calcium uptake. They don't regulate it well. Soils with a pH above neutral typically have that pH due to the presence of Calcium. This wouldn't be a problem if not for the fact BB will take up too much of it. BB need calcium like any other plant, but their inability to regulate uptake calls for a soil with a reduced amount. Usually this means an acidic soil even though it's not really necessary.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that you don't need to worry a whole lot about the gritty mix or 511 mix. It's more important to get them their N in proper type and avoid lime while still giving them some calcium while using a mix that allows the roots to constantly stay moist.

BB are odd in many ways and this makes them 'difficult'. One of those oddities (besides those mentioned) is they don't grow a lot of feeder roots. In nature they rely upon symbiotic fungi for this purpose. In a container they are inefficient at taking up water and nutrients. This means they need constant moisture and nutrients, but at the same time they die quickly if waterlogged. Waterlogged means little oxygen.

I believe either the 511 or gritty mix would be just fine, but the gritty mix has the disadvantage of needing more frequent waterings and the 511 mix has the disadvantage of needing to be replaced more frequently. That is one reason why I would probably start them in 3 parts bark, 1 part turface. The bark will degrade over time, but you should get 2 good seasons and maybe a 3rd before you have to really worry about it.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 1:55AM
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Justa is one of the people here that was alot of help to me with my blueberries. Of course Al, and others. I like justa's recipe of 3 parts bark, one part turface. If I do anymore in containers, I would try that recipe. filix.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 3:58PM
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As always JaG, your thoughtful advise is indispensable and thanks to others as well. What do you think of 5 parts bark to 2 parts Turface, for added water retentive (without peat) in our arid 100+ summers here. I know you've recommended not chasing pH around, but would adding 1/8 cup soil sulfur to the original mix help with the reduced bark? I'm going to guess your answer will be don't add the sulfur as the miracid w/vinegared water will be just fine.

My water pH was on the high side, but both you and Al said it didn't need excessive corrections at 7.4pH and Total Hardness (as CaCO3) 127.12 mg/L.

I picked up some tophat, misty, and another southern highbush yesterday.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 5:41PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

May I ask where you are? I'm in Tucson, Arizona.

100+ easy in the summer. So any suggestions for a mix would be greatly appriated.

I just gathered all the items for the gritty mix. And Lowes has the peat if I need it.

I will be getting Tophat soon.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 5:48PM
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What do you think of 5 parts bark to 2 parts Turface, for added water retentive (without peat) in our arid 100+ summers here.

Sounds like a good idea. I don't have any hands on experience with the intense summers you have, but I am thinking a little extra water retention without reducing aeration couldn't be a bad thing.

The soil sulfur would probably be just fine. I doubt it would be at all necessary, but I don't think mixing a small amount in will harm anything so if you feel more comfortable adding a little, why not?

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 6:13PM
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I also like my half wiskey barrels for containers the best. filix.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 6:23PM
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I just re-read (for the 3rd time) the 3 longest posts on blueberries and found ALL the answers to the above topics, though not all were glaringly obvious in the text. You guys must get tired of repeating yourselves, I know I do with my own kids even ;-) You can read and study the material, but something about verbalizing your question and reading a response forces memory retention -- and then it's extremely easy recall when browsing through material.

Thanks again, I'm ready to go. I bought even more BB's and LOTS more container pome & stone-fruits (genetic dwarf and rootstock dwarf). Lots of container and ground planting to do over the next two months!

Gonna have to join that addiction group I hear so much about.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 5:54AM
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JoJos, I live in Fresno, CA.

I've purchased many quality fruit trees from Dave Wilson Nursery nearby who have recommended in 2001:

Ideal container fruit plants. I like to use a lot of the small bark (75 percent) and a low pH potting soil (25 percent). No need for acid fertilizer as it is too high in nitrogen: 5-10-10 is fine. And no nitrogen in nitrate form! He comments about using high Nitrogen fert, do you really want lots of foliage growth for a container BB?

But a couple years ago changed it to:
Soil Mix. For healthy, vigorous plants mix the following:
 1/3 1/4" pathway bark.
 1/3 peat moss.
 1/3 forest-byproduct-based
potting soil.
(An Azalea mix or Acid Plant mix)
 1 handful of soil sulfur per plant.

They really flip-flopped from mostly-bark little-peat, to mostly-peat with little-bark. I assume it's compensation for increasingly hot Central Valley CA weather and their latest advice to place containers in full sun. Just have to know the pros/cons as the 1st mix is less forgiving for under-watering and the 2nd mix will break down sooner.

You can see various tutorials on line (google "Dave Wilson Fruit Tube") including one partner's walk-through of his own backyard showing all the various BB plants in containers. He also specifically points to a couple of them he has neglected to repot or bareroot in many years (8 I think), using the above mix. Obviously not optimal for the tree, but real world experience from an expert who laughs b/c he didn't repot yet the tree still provides suitable yields.

I'll probably do a couple of BB containers in their mix, but I'm so happy with non-peat based mixes using Turface as JaG and Al have suggested in combination with reducing the container (i.e. root) temperatures. I hate fighting with peat and how it develops dry patches under the soil -- you can be heavily watering in our weather every-other-day and it looks moist on top and at bottom drainage hole and the tree starts wilting (which could be >90 soil temps or under-watering). But when you pull the soil root ball apart you find patches of hydrophobic spots that were never moistening. Then you have to guess at exactly when that developed -- which day did I under-water that started this?

I'm assuming this will happen a lot less with BB since they need more moisture than other trees like Citrus (wherein I was always trying to extend time between saturating waterings to avoid over-watering in peat-based mixes like MG).

However, we are going to metered watering this year in Fresno -- so who knows how I'll feel about the cost of using the non-peat based mixes.

As usual, I'm taking lots of pictures and keeping notes as I go.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dave Wilson Blueberries in Containers

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 6:37AM
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