Blueberry Planting: Spacing Plants and Root Systems
Blueberry planting varies according to the variety, type and age of the blueberry plants, and area of the country where they’re being planted. In the home garden, plant spacing and root system placement are critically important to establishing the blueberry plants.
This article covers the planting of blueberries in four areas of the country with different climates: Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and coastal and Southern California. Choose the state climate most like yours and follow those instructions for planting.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein reminds you, "You will need more than one blueberry bush for pollination, or you will not have any berries! Water your blueberry bushes immediately after planting with enough water to saturate but not flood the soil. If you are not planning on planting your blueberry bushes immediately, remember to keep their roots moist (but not soaking wet) until they are put in the ground."
Blueberry Planting in Michigan
Did you know that 32 percent of the blueberries grown in the United States are grown in Michigan? Most blueberries are grown commercially in Western Michigan, although smaller concentrations of blueberries are also found in the southern part of the state. The most successful types are the northern highbush variety (Vaccinium corymbosum), including in the home garden.
Age - Plants should be 2 to 3 years old, either bare root or container-grown plants.
Soil - Test your soil's pH. Blueberries require acidic soil with a pH of 4.5-5.2. However, most Michigan soil is slightly alkaline, with a pH of above 7. If you are a lucky homeowner with naturally acidic soil, you can plant your bushes directly in the ground. Otherwise, use a raised bed or container. Plants may become more quickly established with a shovelful of acid peat mixed into sandy soil.
Container - If using a container, buy one the size of a half whiskey barrel or larger. 2 or 3 dwarf bushes can be planted in one half barrel. To fill, use a soil mix for acid loving plants, like rhododendrons or azaleas.
Sun - Place bushes in a spot with full sun and good air circulation.
Planting - In the ground, space plants 4 to 5 feet apart in a row on less fertile mineral soil or 5 to 6 feet apart on organic soil. Dig a hole 20 inches deep and 20 inches wide for each bush. Set plants 1 to 2 inches deeper than they were in the nursery.
Water - Blueberries have a shallow and fibrous root system. Keep well irrigated during the growing season. Stop watering the bushes during the winter months unless the soil is very dry.
Mulch - Mulch with sawdust, bark, wood chips, straw or leaves, spread 6 to 8 inches thick. This helps conserve soil moisture.
Blueberry Planting in North Carolina
Highbush and rabbiteye (Vaccinium virgatum) varieties are used in North Carolina for landscaping, screening, cluster plantings or single specimen plants.
Age - Use nursery plants that are 2 to 3 years old, 12 to 36 inches high. Keep the root system moist at all times between digging and replanting.
Season - In North Carolina, plant in late winter (February to May). Fall (November through December) works well in the southeastern coastal plain with bare-root stock, and other areas with potted plants. Highbush varieties will begin to ripen in mid-May in the Coastal Plain region and in early July in the mountains. Rabbiteye varieties begin to ripen in mid-June in the southeastern Coastal Plain.
Soil - Test your pH and make sure it is in the 4.5-5.2 range. If it is too low, you can amend the soil with aluminum sulfate. If it is too high, you may want to consider planting in a raised bed or container. Add peat moss to your soil for much needed nutrients and drainage.
Planting - Space highbush varieties every 4 to 5 feet in rows with 8 to 10 feet between rows. Plant rabbiteye varieties every 6 feet in the row, leaving 10 to 12 feet between rows. For depth, plant to the same depth as in the nursery if applying organic mulch to the surface. If not, blueberry planting should be 1 to 2 inches deeper. This allows for soil settling. Tamp down the soil with your feet and water thoroughly.
Mulch - Mulch with organic material such as sawdust, pine straw, wood chips or bark to a depth of 3 to 4 inches.
Water - Water your bushes with a soaker hose during the growing season to ensure they are receiving adequate amounts of water.
Fertilizer - Do not fertilize immediately after planting. Wait until the first leaves of the blueberry plants have reached full size. Then apply 1 tablespoon of an azalea formulation within a circle 1 foot from the plants.
Blueberry Planting in Florida
Most deciduous fruit does not grow well in Florida because it requires cold conditions during the winter. However, some breeds of blueberry have been cultivated for the Florida climate, called low-chill blueberries. The southern highbush and rabbiteye (Vaccinium virgatum) both grow well in Florida, but you need to buy the low-chill type.
Season - Plant your bushes from mid-December to mid-February.
Location - Blueberry plants in Florida do best in full sun and a well-drained location.
Soil - Blueberries thrive on soil that contains more organic matter than Florida soil usually has. Acid sphagnum peat moss or pine bark should be added to the soil to increase the organic matter content.
Planting - For potted blueberries, remove the plant from the pot and lightly break up (score) the outer surface of the root ball. This helps promote growth. Place the plant in the mulch bed and cover the root system with 1 to 2 inches of mulch. Water well. Space the plants 24 to 30 inches apart if you want a hedge. For individual plants as specimens, place them 6 to 10 feet apart (depending on variety, height and width requirements).
Mulch - In Florida, it’s best to plant blueberries in mulch beds. Use pine needle mulch, 2 cubic feet per plant. Use 1 to 2 inches of mulch over the root system to hold in moisture and nutrients. Replace the mulch every other year.
Water - Keep the blueberry plant's root system moist throughout the growing season.
Fertilizer - Fertilize new plants with a small ring of granular acid fertilizer, such as azalea formulation. Water well after fertilizing.
Blueberry Plants in Coastal and Southern California
Similar to Florida, some deciduous fruits do not grow well in California because they depend on the colder months that some parts of California lack. For this reason, choose a low-chill type of blueberry that has been cultivated specifically for your climate. The southern highbush varieties are especially suited to this region.
Age - The best plants to use are those that are 12 to 18 months old, with 2 to 4 small cones and are 12 to 18 inches in height.
Season - Blueberries can be planted throughout the year in coastal and southern California, except in hotter and drier inland areas during the months of May through August.
Location - Grow blueberry plants on raised beds or in containers. This helps to improve drainage and protect plants from soil-borne diseases. It also allows you to better control the pH of the soil, which blueberries are especially particular about. Raised beds should be typically 4 feet wide to allow for root system development. The root system eventually has to support a blueberry plant approximately 4 feet in diameter.
Soil - Fill your bed or container with a soil mix for acid loving plants, like rhododendron or azaleas. Use acid-inducing plant food such as cottonseed. Work sphagnum peat moss into the soil with your hands. Be sure to soak the peat in water prior to blueberry planting.
Planting - Use either nursery potted plants or bare root plants for your home garden. Spread roots carefully and plant at the same depth as the nursery. Plant on 30-inch spacing between plants in the row by 10 feet spacing from center to center between rows. Leave space of about 6 feet between rows. The hole should be wider than deep.