QUESTION: I have had blueberry bushes for 2 years and they still look awful. I’ve been told to put coffee grounds around them but they don’t grow or produce fruit. We have them in a bed with some calla lilies which are doing very well. The plants were healthy plants from the co-op. I have a friend in Clarksville that has lush bushes with lots of fruit. I asked if they did anything special and she said “no”. Any tips to help us would be appreciated. — Karen in Donelson
Blueberries are pretty finicky about what they need to grow well and produce, so I’ll let you know what those needs are, and you can decide if they’re getting what they require.
Do you know what the variety of your plants? Different types are adapted for different regions, and in Middle Tennessee, the varieties called rabbiteye and southern highbush blueberries are the most reliable choices.
Furthermore, they are not always self-fertile, which means you need more than one variety for cross-pollination to take place (and the insects buzzing around to pollinate them at the right time).
Now, the soil. Blueberries require acid soil, with a pH level of 4.5 to 5.6, so if you don’t have that information, have the soil tested. Coffee grounds are acidic, and that’s why the addition of coffee grounds may have been suggested. The fact that the calla lilies are doing well suggests that the pH might be part of the problem; they grow better in soil that is more alkaline. Blueberries also require soil that is well-drained, so make sure they’re planted in a place that doesn’t stay wet.
They need full sun, and they don’t like to compete with grass and weeds, so mulch around them with shredded bark or compost to keep weeds under control. They also suffer during times of drought because of their shallow roots, so make sure they get sufficient water (about once a week in dry weather, suggests garden expert Felder Rushing in his book, Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening).
Blueberry bushes benefit from the same type of fertilizer as azaleas (which also need acid soil to grow well). Apply fertilizer, following label directions, in the spring.
Your friend who has lush bushes and lots of fruit may not be doing anything special, but it sounds like her plants are the right type for the area, in soil they like, and are getting plenty of sun and enough water. With a little more care and attention, yours may also re-gain their health.