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New to Blueberries and raspberries

Posted by nancyjane_gardener USDA 8ish No CA (My Page) on
Thu, Jun 12, 14 at 11:59

I'm being given one of each plant. I hear you need 2 BBs, different types. And that BBs like acidic soil. DH works in a woodshop with mostly redwood. Would adding some of that help with the soil?
Can either be grown in pots? At least for this year?
I know NOTHING about RBs!
Any help out there? Nancy


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

I think it would be more accurate to say bb's need acidic soil. Yes, they can be grown in containers, and providing the right pH potting mix can be easier than amending soil (which is a lot more technical and hard work than adding some wood shavings - and uncomposted redwood shavings can inhibit plant growth)

I've only grown a few raspberries. Not difficult, and should do very well in NorCal with minimal help.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Thank you Charina. What would be the right PH potting mix? Can I get it at a Big box store, or should I go to the fancy nursery to get specialized stuff?
If I add redwood sawdust to a compost pile, would it help for planting in-ground next year? I'm asking this, cause I have a huge amount available. Nancy


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 12, 14 at 21:23

You might be able to find potting mix that is made for azaleas and rhododendrons. That should work well with blueberries. Blueberries have to be kept watered, and your irrigation water might contain dissolved limestone, or, it might not. It helps to know the pH of your water supply, when growing blueberries.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

As mentioned by Eric, your water pH will be very important. If you will be using city water, you may be able to call your city water works and get the pH and dissolved mineral content of the water. This will be very helpful info for growing blues.

Raspberries are tough plants and are easy to grow.. Be sure to plant them where you can control all of the suckers (new plants) that spread everywhere underground.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

I seem to recall that you are in Sonoma County as I am (sebastopol). You can get rhododendron mix from Wheeler Zamaroni in Santa Rosa (the best) or from Grab n' Grow outside of Sebastopol. Either would be great for blueberries in pots or to amend your native soil with.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

"If I add redwood sawdust to a compost pile, would it help for planting in-ground next year?"
I would have to google if redwood sawdust would do anything for pH adjustment. My expectation is that it would do little or nothing for pH. Depending on your native pH, you would be better off adding elemental sulfur now to prepare the soil for planing this coming fall/spring. Ideally, you need to figure out the pH of your soil, and as mentioned above, your water source. Then you can plan to amend as necessary.

While peat moss won't be as inexpensive as your redwood source, I think it would be better than redwood for amending. I myself would be a bit cautious about using more than a small portion of redwood sawdust even after fully composting it.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

OK, I'll give up on the redwood sawdust. I'll get some rhodie mix and plant in pots for now.
Not sure about my water. I have a well that is quite sulphery smelling in the summer.
I'll ask my neighbor if I can use one of his test strips for his hot tub to test the water.
Thanks all. Nancy


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 13, 14 at 14:23

Blueberry shrubs thrive when they are grown in acidic soil, with high level of organic matter, which could be leaf litter, sawdust, wood chips, or even shredded paper. The vegetable fiber supports the growth of mycorrhizal fungi that live around the roots, and these filaments feed the roots nutrient from the soil, and they are thought to increase the growth of the shrub. However, some plant materials are toxic to blueberry shrubs, including black walnut, beech, and red maple. I don't know if redwood sawdust is an appropriate amendment for blueberry shrubs.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

OK, is there a way to make my well water more acidic than alkaline?
I'll keep them in pots with rhodie mix for this year, until I learn how to amend the soil. Get a soil test etc. It can't be too hard. There's an organic blueberry farm about 5 miles away! Maybe I should go talk to them! Nancy


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 13, 14 at 22:10

The local organic blueberry farm might be helpful, or they might not. Some people regard the knowledge and expertise that they have gained over the years as trade secrets, and others are willing to share. Well water can be made more acidic by adding vinegar, citric acid, or sulfuric acid. Since both vinegar and citric acid are sold as food for people, they are readily available. However, both of these acids break down in the soil, most likely because they are consumed by bacteria living in the soil. So you have to make repeated applications when using these two acids for lowering soil pH. Sulfuric acid has a more long lasting effect on soil pH. It is necessary to measure the pH of your irrigation water, before adding any acid, and after the addition is made. I don't think it is very practical to send out samples for testing, it makes more sense to be doing this yourself. I am currently using a dye indicator, bromocresol green, but I used to use a pH meter that was manufactured by Hanna Instruments. Both methods work OK, and they gave the same results when I compared them. If you have naturally acidic soil, and pH neutral irrigation water, you might not have to do any pH testing. The people with the organic blueberry farm might be willing to give you a clue on the local conditions.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Thanks ericwi...got me quite confused, but lookin into some stuff!
Living in Sonoma Co, I think the organic farm will be willing to share some of their secrets! We're talking about a couple of plants, not a whole field like they have!
Sonoma Co is a pretty Ag type area and full of old Hippies and the like! LOL Nancy


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

From everything I have read, ericwi is right on. You'll want to purchase some way to measure pH (meter, strips) to figure out how much change is necessary. Then you'll want to get yourself either sulfur (the slow/safe method) or sulfuric acid (the fast/aggressive method). I'm also new to blueberries, and I'm doing a combination of the two in order to get mine down to the appropriate range.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

The best way to make soil acid and kept it steady is composting oak leaf. California's got a lot of that. In general most leaf litter when composted will be acidic.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

AgroCoders, you're right that compost and other organic material will generally help the soil be slightly acidic. But it takes a HUGE amount of organic matter to make a significant change.

I highly recommend the Purdue Extension's guide to lowering soil pH. It's a good read.

https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/HO/HO-241-W.pdf


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

One more thought for you: my city tap water here in Ames, Iowa has a pH of 8. With 4 drops of 98% pure sulfuric acid into a gallon of water, the pH drops to 5. Sulfuric acid is by far the cheapest and most effective way to permanently lower the pH of your tap water. However, it's an extremely corrosive chemical, so you have to take the proper safety precautions when working with it.

This post was edited by powerofpi on Sun, Jun 15, 14 at 14:25


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 15, 14 at 18:44

I think that for many people, having to use sulfuric acid to lower the pH of water used to irrigate blueberry shrubs is a deal breaker. Consider the issues: First, you have to buy it. This will take some effort. Transport is risky, please drive carefully! It is true that if you remember to add the acid to the water, then there will be no steam and no splattering and no geyser created. But you only have to forget once, and you can end up with acid all over yourself, and all over the room you are working in. Once the acid is mixed with the water, the worst is over, but there remains the question of what to do with the leftover acid, still in the jug. It has to be stored somewhere, and it has to be secured so that curious children do not have access. A commercial blueberry grower can get set up for dealing with concentrated sulfuric acid, but I'm not sure that this is a good idea for homeowners and backyard gardeners. I prefer to work with agricultural sulfur, even though the process is slower.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Sawdust is a poor mulch and even poorer soil amendment. I know of a dozen apples that were planted in sawdust and it was 10 years until the trees started to thrive.

There must be a lot of oak leave litter available in northern California see if you can get that to compost and to mulch.

If you're planting more than a 12 bushes buying soil will be expensive. Also I've noted that this soil seems to be peat moss mixed in with just enough composted materials to make it black, some chemical agents, and building sand, rarely clay.

I know Bayer, of 'Bayer Aspirin' manufactured top soil for a while and I foil very small strips of aluminum foil in the bag and it stunk. Yuck! Top soil is compost, sand, clay, and peat moss. Real top soil you won't find for sale it's far too valuable for the price that people would pay.

Usually though, if buying berries and such to plant they will be potted in a good artificial soil sufficient for sustaining while the plant establishes new roots. The soil in your yard doesn't have to look like flood plain bottom soil like you see in Chicago. Ever see red Georgia clay? Georgia peaches and pecans grow in it no problem and there are many tree nurseries in Georgia.

As your plants start establishing roots in your yard, you can begin composting your own soil and mulch. Know though that compost is actually serving as fertilizer and mulch and will save lots of money for you and lots of chemical run-off. The plants would lively thrive simply being planted.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Thank you ericwi for pointing out the absurdity of someone recommending a residential person use sulfuric acid to acidify soil.

First of all, once the soil was acidified heavy rains would wash the acidity away so all you are really doing is setting yourself up to use a very dangerous chemical long term continually re-acidity soil.

Second of all what you actually need to do is compost leaf litter and plant material, some do a better job at allowing acidity to be leached out of their decomposition process than others (e.g. oak).

So you see using composting methods isn't 'slower' it's sustainably safe and cheap.

Yes, it's really that simple of a difference between the two methods.

The reasons nurseries are loath to use composting is fear of introducing plant diseases but the truth of the matter is they are depriving their nursery plants of needed nutrients and microorganisms needed to help their nursery plants acquire immunity and vigor.

Honestly if I knew any of my neighbors had sulfuric acid I would look in seeing if it could be reported to the police. Really, even commercially it's being used in situations that don't call for it.

I have spilled battery acid on my jeans and watch them actually crumble and fall off my body within 30 minutes. All I can say is I'm thankful those jeans were very absorbent.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Yeah I use sulfuric acid, it's cheap, and the most effective.
I don't have a problem mixing or anything. i don't use pure, i use about a 50% solution. it's sold at any auto parts place as battery acid. I actually need it for batteries too! Long story but I have an electric gold cart. Yes, it is pure as snow, no worries there. It has to be to work in batteries, required by law to be pure too. Compost in general is not aciidic, Compost can be very basic, like mushroom compost. Yes, oak leaves can be acidic, but not enough for blueberries, we want 5.0 PH, if your soil is 7.0 than 5.0 is 100 times more acidic, you're going to need a lot of compost to make the soil 100 times more acidic.
I do not use sulfuric acid to acidify my soil, I use it to acidify my water. Even the rainwater is pure these days and needs acid too. My rainwater tests out at 7.0. I add sulfur too, and use ammonium sulfate also. Your blueberries can grow some at a higher PH, but get the PH right and they grow and fruit like weeds. Awesome plants! Easy to grow once PH is right.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Sun, Jun 15, 14 at 20:07


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Well, my neighbor has enough oak leaves for all of us! I got quite a few leaves from my young ones also this year.
Could I chop them up, dump them in a bucket and use that for watering??? I'll start collecting and start a pile just of the oak leaves.
I'll go nab some of the neighbor's compost in the mean time to mix in with the soil. Nancy


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

AgroCoders, thank you for the absurd overreaction to the use of sulfuric acid. I got a good laugh out of your response. I imagine the cops would get a great laugh out of it too if you called.

Compost is certainly beneficial- I love compost! It's just not an effective tool for lowering pH in a meaningful way, particularly when the soil and tap water have significant bicarbonates and calcium floating around.

I will agree that the "safe" recommendation for most folks would be elemental sulfur, not sulfuric acid. However, with (very simple) precautions, sulfuric acid can be a very valuable tool for semi-permanently neutralizing bicarbonates and correcting alkaline soil. And sulfur is one of the most abundant elements on the planet, per your "sustainability" concern...


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Nancy, for the most part it would be advisable to ignore AgroCoders. I suspect the individual is well intentioned, but the advice and info is typically a bit of truth taken to the extreme and mixed with two parts of absurd. Blueberries don't thrive well in such heavy "manure" of advice.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

  • Posted by fruitnut z7b-8a,4500ft SW TX (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 15, 14 at 22:40

I believe the battery acid is 33% sulfuric. That's a lot safer than 98%. The effect of sulfuric acid on soil pH isn't entirely permanent. But if carbonates in the soil are changed to gypsum that is permanent. And gypsum is pH neutral.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Thanks for the clarification, explains why I need so much!
Yeah i use it for water, but I'm sure some does drop soil PH.
The dispenser also makes it easy to use, I could easily buy the pure stuff on Amazon, but I like the convienent dsipenser the battery acid comes in, and as I said, need it for my golf cart.


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

A practical answer for Nancy the OP: Mix your blueberries up some soil with plenty of organic matter. Oak leaves, compost, pine needles, etc. would all be excellent choices. Then get an inexpensive pH test. You'd like your pH to be around 5. If it's higher, buy some elemental sulfur (quite cheap) and add it according to the Purdue Extension instructions. This will bring the soil down slowly over time and keep it low for years. Your blueberries will be happy campers in their new homes, and you won't have to be nervous around acid.

A defense of sulfuric acid for others: Sulfuric acid can be easily and cheaply purchased in varying purities from places like Amazon. The effects are long-lasting, because carbonates get permanently converted to gypsum. Of course, if your soil includes lime, then more of this may dissolve over time, re-raising your pH. Also if you water with alkaline city water, this will also re-raise your pH. Using it is simple. It takes no time at all to throw on gloves and goggles and measure a couple drops into a watering bucket. Obviously you store it in a cool dry place out of the reach of children, just like you would antifreeze, paint thinner, bleach, and many other substances in your home. It's easy, carries minimal risks, and has instant benefits! In a very short time my blueberries have greened up and are looking much healthier.

This post was edited by powerofpi on Mon, Jun 16, 14 at 9:33


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Nancyjane - do you have a rain collection system? A few rainwater butts would give you a supply of water for your blueberries. How many plants is your friend giving you? I was imagining just one or two. If that is the case there seems to be a certain amount of sledgehammering of nuts going on here. A bag of Ericaceous compost and a rain water butt could sort out all these problems.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blueberries in containers


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RE: New to Blueberries and raspberries

Thank you Floral, for the link. Just what I needed!
I'm going to put them in pots for this year, then decide if I want to continue. Nancy


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