Container Gardening Tips
One of the ways my family strives to be more self-reliant is growing our own food. I try to grow as much as I can in our small space. I especially like to grow my own fruit and when I left Oregon I thought I was leaving blueberry bushes behind. The acidic soil of the Pacific Northwest and the cool weather make it just right for growing these good-for-you edibles. They are relatively easy to grow when given acid soils and the right growing climate. Much to my surprise, I found a Monrovia Bountiful Blue® Blueberry plant at the garden center yesterday. It is loaded with fruit just waiting to ripen in the Texas sun.
This particular blueberry has low chill requirement of only 150-200 winter chill hours. What are chill hours? Each fruit, nut or berry has a range of chill hours needed for setting fruit. Basically, they need to be cold for a certain amount of time.
The lower the number of chill hours, the better the selection performs in warm weather areas such as the lower, coastal and tropical south.
Usually in the south, people grow rabbiteye blueberries and these only need 350-700 chill hours to set fruit. My new Bountiful Blue® Blueberry needs much less than that!
Tips to Grow Blueberries in Pots
1. Blueberries produce satisfactory yields if planted in containers or raised beds with mixtures of peat moss, sand, and pine bark. This will give it the acidic soil it needs to thrive. Depending on the size of your plant, you only need a container between 12 and 18 inches deep.
2. Sandy soils are ideal for growing blueberries. If you are growing in sandy soil, drip irrigation should be provided because most blueberries are not drought tolerant. Do not plant blueberries on heavy clay soils that have poor internal drainage, which will cause root decline and poor vigor.
3. Blueberries are a low maintenance plant and are easy to grow, but they are sensitive to excessive fertilizer. Instead of one high-dosage feeding, apply fertilizer two or three times a year at low rates. Organic slow-release fertilizers are best.
Avoid fertilizers that contain nitrate forms of nitrogen, which may slow plant growth. Instead, use fertilizers with nitrogen in the form of urea or ammonium. Check the fertilizer package to determine the form of nitrogen that it contains. The most effective and most commonly used nitrogen fertilizer for blueberries in Texas is ammonium sulfate (21-0-0).
4. Mulch is vital for growing blueberries, especially during the first 2 years of planting. It helps acidify the soil, control weeds, conserve soil moisture, and moderate soil temperatures. Apply a layer of mulch 2 to 3 inches deep over the exposed soil in your container.
Appropriate mulches include peat moss, pine straw, pine bark, leaves, and grass clippings. Do not use barnyard manure, which has a high salt content.
5. Once the fruit begins to ripen, protect your berry harvest from birds by isolating the crop. Netting continues to be the most complete and effective way to reduce bird damage in small fruit plantings. It is the most durable and with proper care, may last up 10 years. You can purchase bird netting or find something at the local fabric store. This fabric or netting is placed over the plant once the bush has stopped flowering and sets fruit.
Here’s a tip from one of my Facebook readers Cris:
“It’s pretty easy to build the soil you need. Blueberries need acid soil because they have an extremely high need for iron. Soil with clay in it binds up the iron, making it unavailable to the plant. This is the recipe I’m using in my potted blueberries: half pine bark mini nuggets, half good potting soil. Then I add 1/4 cup of acid loving food the first year…then the pine bark mulch will start to break down, naturally acidifying. I mulch with coffee grounds and fallen pine needles. Yup, I mulch potted plants. It’s especially needed for these bad boys because they are shallow rooted. Keep watered regularly.” Thanks for the tips Cris!
This particular plant that I purchased is very healthy. It has hundreds of pieces of fruit that have already set and are just waiting to ripen. There is also new growth so I will have plenty of fruit next year too. You can buy plants online or find a plant at a nursery near you. Even if you don’t need a low chill plant like I do, there is sure to be a blueberry just for your region.
Chill Hours of Common Fruit, Nuts & Berries
Blueberry- rabbiteye 350-700
Pear – Asian 150-750
Pear – European 600-1500
Plum – European 700-1100
Plum- Japanese 400-1000