Question about blueberries in containers

Raekwon(9)August 21, 2012

I just put 2 blueberry bushes in larger pots today. Went from the 1 gallon pots I bought them in to some 15 gallon pots. My question is about the soil I used. I read lots of posts that had different mixes of stuff to lower the Ph and make the plants happy. When I went to my local garden shop the guy that helped me steered me away from mixing all this stuff and said it was more than fine to just do a 50/50 mix of peat moss and potting soil. So following his advice, that's what I did. I just want some opinions about how well you think my plants will do and if I should change anything. Thanks in advance!

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capoman(5a)

Of course the guy would steer you away from mixing your own. It would cut into his sales.

Your mix will likely be very water retentive due to the high peat content and you'll have to water very carefully as blueberries really dislike saturated roots.

The other issue is pH. Although peat is acidic, the potting soil, if not made specifically for acid loving plants will likely contain significant lime which is also not good for blueberries. You will likely have a high pH and require acidification by sulfur or other acidifier. Lime acts as a buffer so it might take quite a bit of effort to bring the pH down.

If you really want to do what's best for the plants, read the info in http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/contain/msg0214580016564.html?121/. You will likely want to consider using the 5:1:1 mix and use gypsum and epsom salts in place of lime to keep the pH down. The superior drainage and pH characteristics of this mix will be much better for your blueberries then you have now.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 8:42AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Yeah, what he said!

15 gallons is a good choice.

Repot them now using the correct mix and you won't be sorry. They'll grow like weeds. The 5:1:1 mix should work well. My containers get pounded all day by the sun so I add a little extra peat for additional water retention, but the mix still drains great.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 8:56AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I forgot to add that the pH of my tap water is about 8, so I add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per gallon when I water.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:00AM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

Yea berries grow next to rockes and along hills where there is plenty of drainage. Just plant them in pine bark with no lime added.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:05AM
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Raekwon(9)

UGH! I didn't think about the people that helped me just trying to sell their stuff.... I asked a couple different people at a couple different nurseries and all agreed that the 50/50 mix would be well acidic enough due to the peat moss and a couple even told me that the water retention from the moss would be a good thing.

Holy hell... Now I have 2 15 gallon jugs of WELL saturated soil (I always thought when you transplant a good wetting is in order afterwards, so I did) around my new plants. Do I need to toss all that soil and peat moss and just start over? and should I let it dry out some first?

And that 5:1:1 mix, is all that available at any garden shop? Never looked for stuff like gypsum. And just the store bought epsom salt or is there a finer variety I should look for?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 11:39AM
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capoman(5a)

As far as garden center people, how many actually grow blueberries themselves or have enough interest to really know how to grow them well? They are expected to have a small amount of knowledge about every plant they sell, and the products they sell, nothing more. Many people on these forums have done their research since they want to give a plant the best chance of thriving they can. I am a blueberry nut, as it's my favorite fruit. When I had issues with my blueberries in my garden, I did the research to grow well and made a lot of changes including making raised beds with proper soil to grow them in. I wish I had done my research first, which is something I now do for any plant I grow. I never take garden center advice since much of it is either wrong or biased towards products they sell. I see many unhealthy plants in garden centers because many don't even understand the basics of soil less mix. I'm not saying they are all this way, but most that I have encountered. The real gardeners in these places are often not the ones out front selling.

Read the thread link above on the theory and how to mix 5:1:1 with very common ingredients. If you have any raw peat left over, you can use that in the 5:1:1, but if the potting soil is not for acid plants, I would save it for other plants rather then blueberries. You may be able to reuse it for other plants that like a normal pH, including mixing it with pine bark and possibly perlite to improve it.

Mixing your own soil is not rocket science and can save you a lot of money. Tapla's thread listed above totally explains container soils and will answer all your questions. It will even give you the knowledge to modify the soil to your needs such as for blueberries.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 12:50PM
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capoman(5a)

Gypsum and epsom salts can be bought cheaply in bulk at most farmer supplies, if you can't find them at the garden centers which usually charge more.

If you have a complete fertilizer for acidic plants, you may not need gypsum or epsom salts (yes you can use bath salts, but cost more). Check the label for nutrients and see if calcium and magnesium is included. Those two nutrients are missing from many fertilizers. The reason is that most tapwater includes these. If you do the right thing and use rainwater, you may need to add these two items.

As far as fertilization, blueberries require minimal fertilizer. In containers you will will need a full spectrum of nutrients but not every time you fertilize. Once you get the main nutrients in there, you may just mostly need to fertilize with ammonium sulphate.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 12:58PM
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Raekwon(9)

It is looking more and more like no nurseries near me carry pine bark fines or pine bark at all. I have tried several. I would like to try the 5:5:1 but it seems like I don't have access to the main ingredient. Any suggestions on a substitution?

I checked the bags of soil I used with the peat moss and they do indeed contain lime so I imagine they will at least partially or maybe even fully counteract the acidity of the peat moss.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 4:18PM
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Raekwon(9)

Yeah, called several more nurseries in my area, none have pine bark and all recommend using a product like Dr. Earths acid lovers alongside normal potting soil.

I know it's their job to push the stuff they sell but in the even that pine bark fines are not available to me would a soil mix with this acid lovers fertilizer be good? Dr earth also makes an acid lovers soil mix I think. Maybe that mixed with peat and perlite would be a suitable substitute to the 5:5:1 mix?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 4:39PM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

I get a bag of pine bark "mini-nuggets" at lowes. In the garden section in the white bag with blue lettering. I let some sit out a while and age, this is what they look like.

I grew some peppers with it with great results. Just got a few plants like perennial grass of some kind, I put in this mix and they are grow nice. I am taking interest in growing evergreens and trees in containers too, and pine bark is your best bet. Lucky you, you dont even have to lime because the bark is at a good ph for berries!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 5:25PM
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Raekwon(9)

We have no big box stores where I live. Not for hours in any direction. And I think to get my blueberries in good soil I won't have time to get anything that requires aging or anything. I'd like to get them into something healthy they will love and thrive in this week.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 5:33PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

No need to panic. Just relax and regroup. The bushes will be ok for a while, but IMO should be repotted as soon as possible. I find it hard to believe that no nursuries or garden centers in your area sell bags of pine bark mulch. How about places that sell mulch and top soil? The potting soil you used is the problem. In the long run it will be much easier to just take your time now and find the right ingredients to make the correct mix for the bushes. Any halfway decent garden center sells garden gypsum, and you can get the epsom salts at Walmart (or any pharmacy for that matter) for less than $3. I know it feels overwhelming now, we've all been there, but it will be worth it in the long run.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:34PM
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Raekwon(9)

I will ask again for pine bark mulch. I was asking for fines or partially composted pine bark when I called and maybe the people I asked were not able to translate that into pine bark mulch. I plan to check K-marts garden center this evening too. If pine bark mulch is that common maybe a big box store will have some.

Another thing I was wondering- If I did find the pine bark mulch would it be ok to use the 50/50 mix I already have as the 1 part peat moss in the 5:1:1 mix? I just have so much of it and it'd be nice to not have to buy more peat moss. I know its not terribly expensive but I have a lot mixed in the potting soil already. I could use some acid lovers type fertilizer to counteract any lime that would be in the soil. Would that work?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:50PM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

You can save the mix you have to use as the small part of a bark based mix. I have good results with 15% potting mix and 85% pinebark. Your mix will work great for just the small amount you will need in the mix.

You can use the mix you made to propagate cuttings from the berry and other plants, something very fun I just got into! :)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:56PM
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capoman(5a)

Not sure if reusing the soil as the peat component is a good idea or not. Lime is a very powerful buffer, which could affect your ability to lower the pH, but with enough acid, I'm sure you could do it.

As far as pine bark, it's often sold as mulch or as soil conditioner. If not available, Fir bark should also work. Most store workers won't know what you mean by "pine bark fines". Even coarse nuggets can work if you mow over them, chip them, or run over with your vehicle to reduce particle size, but you'll also need to add extra nitrogen in CRF form if you use the big nuggets. I have read from several people here that they can get pine mulch from K-mart. Hopefully yours does too.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 10:25AM
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capoman(5a)

By the way, I know all this sounds overwhelming, but if you get it right the first time, blueberries can be a very low maintenance plant requiring very few nutrients, with very few pests. Once established, they may only need some water, pruning and occasional ammonium sulfate for fertilizer. The hard part is getting them started in the right soil pH and drainage, whether in ground on in containers. After that it's a piece of cake.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 10:40AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

K-Mart, Walmart, big box stores, Tractor Supply, nurseries, garden centers, feed stores, topsoil and mulch suppliers. An Ace Hardware near here sells bagged Agway stuff.....they make a good pine bark mulch. Last spring I was in the same shoes as you, and I did an organized search, and eventually came up with several places to buy it.Where are you located?? There is a thread that identifies supplies by state.
http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/contain/msg041917144346.html

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 1:35PM
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Raekwon(9)

Ok, I found some bags of mulch ad soil conditioner at some local places. Only one of the bags said anything about pine bark. One just lists the ingredients as forest bark and one has no ingredients list. Maybe it is just common knowledge what they contain specifically so they don't have to list the ingredients. Anyway, I'm going to post pictures of the bags I found so you guys can see and maybe have a better idea than me on which one to get and be the 5 part of the 5:1:1 mix. The first picture had no ingredients list at all. so it's just a pic of the bag.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 5:32PM
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Raekwon(9)

this is the bag that just said "forest bark" as ingredients.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 5:33PM
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Raekwon(9)

This soil conditioner has lime in it. Opposite of what i'm looking for I think. No mention of pine bark that I see.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 5:35PM
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Raekwon(9)

And the last one is another soil conditioner. This one mentions pine bark specifically. But now I see that in California (where I live) it is most likely redwood bark. Would this work?

So the mulches I found were not specific at all on the packaging about the type of bark in them. Some even just listed the ingredients as "mulch".

I'm still feeling like I have not found what I need. on my search I did see the Acid loving plants soil from Gardner and Bloom and also Dr. Earth. I know the bark fines will be best but so far I think i'm striking out on that one.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 5:42PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Good work! I think you might have something there with the Gardeners Mini Mulch. I checked their web site and this is what they said about it:

�An extra-fine textured (1/8" x 1/4") bark well suited for small area ground cover, mulching, decorative top dressing for large containers
�May be worked into the soil to improve drainage
�Also suitable as a growing medium for many types of orchids

Now my words. 1/8" to 1/4" is actually a bit small for the 511. Usually http://www.kellogggarden.com/products?brand=gardeners&category=all#7

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 7:45PM
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Raekwon(9)

The kellogg company says the "forest bark" mix is somewhat random but is mostly always a mix of pine and fir trees. Is that ok to use? And they do have a size bigger than the mini mulch I photographed, and that might be the size you were recommending so if fir or pine or a mix of the 2 will be good I can check the size of their medium bark mix.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 9:52PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Pine and fir bark is perfect! As far as size goes, anything from dust up to 3/8" is recommended for the 511 mix. The Mini Mulch will work, but if you can find something better, even better.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 8:29AM
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Raekwon(9)

If dust up to 3/8 is good then wouldn't the mini mulch be perfect since it is bigger than dust but smaller than 3/8?

Also I picked up some acid lovers fertilizer today because I had a coupon that made it like 4 bucks. Would I be able to use this in the mix in place of the gypsum? I will upload a picture of the bag so you guys can see whats in it. I also have some of the medium size bark of the same brand as the mini mulch and i'll upload a pic of the size of the pieces so you have an idea of how small the mini might be. Maybe a mix of the mini and the medium size would be good?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 8:05PM
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Raekwon(9)

here is the fertilizer. it's a 6-4-4 mix if the pic isn't clear. Hopefully it is and you can see the other stuff in it. I wondered if it could be used in place of the gypsum because it has some gypsum in it. And if I could use it in place of, would I use the same amount in the 5:1:1 recipe?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 8:09PM
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Raekwon(9)

this is the medium size of the same brand as the mini mulch picture I uploaded. It seems way too big to use as the main part of something I want to grow a bush in. But if you guys say some big pieces are good maybe a mix of the mini and this would be good?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 8:11PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

The medium size is too big. Go with the Mini Mulch. It'll be fine. As far as the fertilizer goes, it's good for fertilizer, but not for the gypsum ingredient in the mix. It would be way too much fertilizer to get the gypsum you need. Espoma makes small 5 lb bags of garden gypsum. It's what I use.

http://www.espoma.com/p_consumer/org_trad_overview.html

For 15 gallons of mix you'll need just about 1 cup of gypsum. The gypsum supplies the calcium without raising the pH of the mix, and the epsom salts, which I add to my water once per week, supplies the magnesium. Once you get the mix made and the bushes potted, check out the threads on fertilizing blueberries. There are some good ones in the container forum and in the fruits forum. Keep up the good work! My blueberry bushes are growing like weeds this year.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 11:05PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

This Farthing was just a one year old stick with a couple of branches when I planted it this spring.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 11:13PM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

Nice looking plant!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 12:29AM
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Raekwon(9)

Ok. All good info. I am going to the store tomorrow to gather up the last ingredients and change out the soil. When I make the mix is it wise to toss in some of the fertilizer I bought and mix it in for the initial transplant? or just rake some in the top layer of the mix and water? I will read up on the threads about fertilizing BB's for my future needs but as for tomorrow is it good to mix some in with the 5:1:1 mix?

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 1:08AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

As far as the initial fertilizer goes you could probably do it either way. I might mix a little in, and put a little on top. One thought to keep in mind is that blueberries don't need a whole lot of fertilizer. Also, with this mix, you will be watering often, so if the fertilizer is on top it will have plenty of time to find it's way down into the mix. At the beginning of each year I usually add a little granular CRF like Osmocote, or MG Shake and Feed, to the surface of the container. After that, a lot of blueberry growers (including me, novice as I am) use Ammonium Sulfate 21-0-0 to stimulate growth. I got mine from Ebay. I'm definitely no expert on fertilizer....just kind of go by feel. IMO it's better to play it safe in the beginning, and not over fertilize while it's getting established in the new container. Once you are sure it's growing well, then you can fertilize with confidence. There's lots of threads on the use of Ammonium Sulfate on blueberries on the Container forum and also on the Fruits forum.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 11:53AM
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Raekwon(9)

Got everything gathered up but the gypsum.. Everywhere I have checked so far has 40 and 50 pound bags. I need 2 cups of the stuff. even though a 5 pound bag would be overkill I'd buy one if I could find one..... Is there soming that could replace the gypsum?

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 8:28PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

You can get by without it for now. Don't worry about it. The gypsum only supplies the calcium. You said there was calcium in the granular fertilizer you have. That should be good enough. Just keep an eye out for a small bag of the stuff. I know that on the tomato forum people are always looking for calcium supplements for their tomatoes as a cure for blossom end rot. If you have a convenient moment check the tomato forum for calcium threads. I wonder if anyone ever ground up their calcium vitamin supplements and fed them to a plant? There's more than one way to skin a cat. I know someone that fed a couple of iron pills to a watermelon plant once.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 9:14PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Also, I've been meaning to suggest that you increase the peat by 1 part. For two reasons, the Mini Mulch has no fine stuff in it, and since the mix will drain extremely well, it won't hurt a bit to have a little extra water retention. Not sure how much sunny, hot weather yours will be subjected to, but I was soaking my containers at least every other day.......sometimes every day. It's important not to let them dry out. Blueberries like damp soil, which is exactly what they'll have. The beauty of the mix is that you don't have to worry about over watering because of the superior drainage.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 10:52PM
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Raekwon(9)

this is the mini mulch. Pretty small pieces and lots of stuff smaller than what I would call "pieces". And I live in Northern California. Like the REAL northern California. Almost Oregon. It's always cool and usually overcast (never goes over 80 degrees on the hottest day) here and we tend to get lots of rain. Still think I should up the peat moss?

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 11:38PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

OK, in that case there is probably no need to up the peat portion. The mix will break down over time anyway. You'll notice quite a bit of settling and compaction over the first year. Is there any way you can test the pH of your tap water? Mine is around 8, so just a reminder that I use 2 tablespoons of 5% white vinegar per gallon of water when I water. I go through about 2 gallons of vinegar per year for my 7 plants. Growing in a mix like this borders on hydroponics, so I need to make sure that water has a correct pH like the mix.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 9:50AM
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Raekwon(9)

Ok, 1 plant done. I'll throw up a picture of the before and after soil so those that are interested can see the plants all these questions have been about! As for water pH, I will get some test strips from the pet store later on but i'm sure it's well over 5 or 6. I think safe drinking water is supposed to be around 7 or 8 so for now I threw a couple tablespoons in a gallon jug with water. After that I used hose water which is how I'll be watering these most of the time. I don't have ay way to collect rainwater so hose it is. Any suggestions on getting the pH down when using hose water? Could I just do a concentrated gallon with vinegar and then hose over that?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 4:49PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

When I said tap water, I meant hose water. All our cold water pipes come from the same town cold water supply. Even if I used rain water, I'd still have to add vinegar. I think my rain water tested at about 6.0. I got a good pH test kit from a pet store which tests down to a pH of 5 for fresh water, for about $10. I also got litmus paper from Ebay, from China for $1. I couldn't resist having something sent from China for $1. The stuff was actually pretty good, came with a color chart and tests down to 4.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 12:46AM
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greentiger87

If you're really desperate, Plaster of Paris is dehydrated gypsum. You'd have to add water and wait an hour or so to get regular gypsum. Sheetrock/wallboard is gypsum too, but usually with added ingredients.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 6:41PM
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greentiger87

Have you guys found a retail source of ericaceous mycorrhizae?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 7:12PM
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Raekwon(9)

I found a smaller bag of garden gypsum. I have changed out the soil on one of the plants. Will do the other one when my son lets me get out there. This is the one I have not changed yet. You can kind of see the soil is compacted and there's not much perlite. That is a 50/50 mix of potting soil and peat moss.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 10:10PM
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Raekwon(9)

This is the one I changed. it's the 5:1:1 mix that was suggested.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 10:12PM
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Raekwon(9)

This is a more complete picture of how they look now. Which is how they looked when I bought them a couple weeks ago. Do they look like they will need anything special? Ailments you notice or anything?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 10:13PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

The mix looks good. They should love it. What kind of blueberries are they? Do you have much growing season left? What kind of winters do you have where you live? My leaves usually turn red in the fall.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 12:46AM
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Raekwon(9)

One plant is Jersey blueberries and the other is Rubel. What do you mean by growing season? I thought they had to grow for quite a long time before they would yield any fruit so I just thought they would fill out and grow for a year or so before anything happened. The winters here are pretty cold and VERY rainy. All year round it never gets above 75 or so here so it's never hot. I live in Northern California. The website says my area is Zone 9 if that means anything.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 5:12PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I was just curious as to how much of a growing season there was left where you are, thinking the bushes could get established in the new pots and you might get some new growth before they go dormant. Here we have a 5 month growing season basically May thru September. When I saw the red leaves I thought that you might be at a high elevation or something and getting cooler weather. Yes, since your bushes are still small, you'd probably do well to let them grow for another year without bearing fruit. They look like about 2 year old bushes. Trim off any fruit blossoms in the spring.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 1:09AM
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Baby G (Z10, 300?CH, SoCal-LA)(10)

Regarding the lack of availability of pine bark: I went in to my Home Depot three times asking for it. Their computer showed they had 75 bags of it but nobody would help me find it. Finally one worker said. "Don't use pine bark -- it will kill all your palnts." I told her that it was ok, I want acidic bark for blueberries. (No reaction.) They still wouldn't find it for me. Maybe they really believe its bad for all plants and that's why they don't put it out.
I noticed that all five kinds of the "bark nuggets" they do sell are all just wood shavings not bark, and are all dyed. Yuk.
I'm glad to hear that Lowe's carries pine bark! Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 3:44PM
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