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Blueberry bushes are shrubs that often grow wild in North America. They are also cultivated on many continents for their tasty, sweet, blue fruit. Blueberries are sold fresh or made into food items, such as jelly. The plants will grow if they have adequate water, a sunny spot, and very acidic soil that contains a good deal of organic matter.
There are two basic types of blueberry bushes, which are in the genus Vaccinium. Lowland blueberries grow wild in Eastern North America. They can grow over wide expanses referred to as barrens. They are fire-resistant and help in vegetation re-growth after a blaze.
A highland blueberry bush is the type most commonly cultivated. It has larger berries, and is cultivated in Europe and several continents in the Southern hemisphere. There are many varieties of this type of shrub. Some are better suited to particular climates than others. The plants generally will not tolerate cold weather below -20°F (-29°C).
If the soil is acidic enough, highland blueberry bushes are suitable for home gardens. The plants prefer a sandy soil, rich in organic matter. If the soil is a clay loam, it should be amended with a lot of compost and treated with sulfur to acidify it, a year before planting. Any soil should be tested for pH levels and organic matter content both before and after amendment, to ensure that it has reached the appropriate pH of 4 to 4.5. Actively growing blueberry bushes should receive 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5 cm) of water per week until early autumn.
When purchasing blueberry bushes, it is ideal to buy three year-old shrubs, and plant them in the early spring. To set blueberry bushes, one should dig a hole deeper than the root ball, and mix in peat moss with the soil. The bushes should be planted about 5 ft (1.5 m) apart, in rows 10 ft (3 m) wide. Once the shrubs have been planted, mulch should be added to a depth of about 4 in (10 cm) and maintained over the lifespan of the bushes. Each plant should be fertilized a month after planting, and then lightly once each year.
If one has younger plants, they should not be allowed to set fruit. This gives the shrubs a chance to build up their vegetation and rootstocks. At three years of age, a small harvest can be permitted. At six years, they should start producing prolifically. One will typically get a better harvest if two different cultivars are planted near each other. Also, the berries should not be picked until they have been blue for between 1 and 3 days, and they no longer have a red tinge to them.
Pruning blueberry bushes can be tricky, but is necessary to keep them producing an ideal crop of fruit. For young plants, dead stems and weak growth should be pruned when the plants are dormant. For those three years of age and older, there are many factors to determine the pruning strategy. Since such trimming can be complex, it is often wise to consult a specific source beforehand, to determine how to prune the bushes properly. The plants may require netting to keep birds from eating all of the fruit before harvesting.
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