tophat blueberry plants -- several questions

grendelsdadSeptember 18, 2009

[I'm a new gardener, so please forgive these naive questions, and please talk slow when you answer.] :)

I just bought 2 dwarf tophat blueberry plants from Gardens Alive. They arrived today. I've read several other threads about these plants and I'm still really confused. Here are my questions.

Container type: Seems a 20" pot is ideal if I don't want to repot for at least a couple of years. True? Can I just buy standard type pots and use them as-is or do I need to do any drilling/lining/etc.? I assume I should mulch.

Cross-pollination: GA catalog says "No pollinator needed." Does this mean I do not need to buy other blueberry varieties? Would it be helpful for me to do it anyway? If so, what varieties do you recommend?

Timing: OK to put them in pots and place outside right now? Is winter too close?

Winter: OK to leave them out in pots over the winter? Is it critical to bury the containers for the winter? If so, when should I do it and when should I pull them back out?

Location: North side of house is pretty sunny but limited space; could put pots on front steps if they're not too big. West side of property is lined with hedges but gets lots of sun during the day. Rest of property has big trees and is pretty shady. Suggestions?

pH: How carefully do I need to check soil pH, and how often?

Thanks!

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justaguy2(5)

It's fun to get started isn't it?

Being a brand new gardener you don't mess around either. You chose a moderately difficult plant to grow well.

This is probably a plant Al (Tapla) would like for it's small leaves and trunk that looks old pretty quickly (he's a bonsai nut).

OK, so let's start at the beginning of your questions and work through them. Per your request I will keep my responses short and not overly detailed (I will try anyway ;) Container type: Seems a 20" pot is ideal if I don't want to repot for at least a couple of years. True? Can I just buy standard type pots and use them as-is or do I need to do any drilling/lining/etc.? I assume I should mulch.

A 20" pot would be more room than needed for this dwarf variety. For reference, I used to grow full sized blueberries in 20" or so pots (I now just grow them in the ground). This is fine as long as your potting mix drains very well. If it doesn't the extra potting mix that the roots aren't taking water from will retain water for a long time potentially leading to root rot. I would suggest looking at the roots on your plants and choose a pot that is just slightly large enough to fit them in without having to scrunch them up much. It's going to be easier this way. Cross-pollination: GA catalog says "No pollinator needed." Does this mean I do not need to buy other blueberry varieties? Would it be helpful for me to do it anyway? If so, what varieties do you recommend?

You don't need another variety, but yields will likely be higher if you have one nearby. Variety doesn't much matter. Blueberries are listed as early, mid or late season, but this generally just refers to how long after flowering it takes for ripe fruit. Most blueberries will flower around the same time (early-mid spring) regardless of how long they take to ripen so any other blueberry should serve the purpose. Timing: OK to put them in pots and place outside right now? Is winter too close?

Yes, you can put them in pots and place outside now, but it's really not the best time. You likely only have another month or so before they begin to go dormant for the winter. You don't have much choice though. You have plants sitting around that need a home and you have to hope for the best. Winter: OK to leave them out in pots over the winter? Is it critical to bury the containers for the winter? If so, when should I do it and when should I pull them back out?

Container plants generally need some protection for the winter because the cold hardiness only refers to the above ground portion of the plant, not the roots, but in a container the roots are above ground (the earth insulates plant roots very well). You can either bury the container after the plants lose their leaves (or right away if you like, it won't harm them) or place them in a shed or unheated garage. Your plant is rated cold hardy to zone 3 and you are in zone 6 so with a little protection from the worst winter has to offer they should make it. Remove them from the ground or the shed or whatever when buds begin to swell. Once the plant pushes out new leaves it requires sunlight or it will decline and die. Location: North side of house is pretty sunny but limited space; could put pots on front steps if they're not too big. West side of property is lined with hedges but gets lots of sun during the day. Rest of property has big trees and is pretty shady. Suggestions?

You really don't need to avoid the freezes, you need to avoid the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw cycles. Wherever they spend the winter it should not be a sunny area. The sun can warm/thaw them even when the temps are below freezing in which case they thaw by day and freeze by night. Very bad situation. They don't need any light whatsoever once they lose their leaves which is why the shed/garage is fine. If buried, choose an area that gets little to no direct sunlight. pH: How carefully do I need to check soil pH, and how often?

Controlling pH is difficult in containers. I wouldn't bother checking it. Use a water soluble fertilizer and for extra safety add 1/2 ounce white distilled vinegar per gallon of your tap water to acidify it and you will have no pH troubles in a container.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 9:59PM
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grendelsdad

justaguy -- thanks for the thorough and helpful answers! I'm trying to follow your suggestions. Unfortunately the morning after I potted the plants, I woke up to find that some animal dug one up, tore up the roots, and broke the stem off. Maybe I was worrying about the wrong issues...

    Bookmark   September 21, 2009 at 10:11AM
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justaguy2(5)

LOL, sorry to hear that, Grendelsdad. Isn't just how it goes though? We do everything we can for our plants and it's always the one thing we didn't think of that gets us ;)

    Bookmark   September 21, 2009 at 10:20AM
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