Blueberry Fertilizer: How to Feed Your Blueberry Plants Properly
The blueberry fertilizer you use to feed your blueberry bushes shouldn’t be just any old fertilizer. Blueberry plants have specific needs, and the blueberry food you give to your plants should meet those specific needs.
One of the keys of knowing how to grow blueberries successfully is in knowing how to properly fertilize blueberries.
First, Do No Harm When Fertilizing Blueberries
Blueberries tend not to need large quantities of fertilizer.
And because they have shallow, fibrous root systems, you could easily damage your blueberry plants by applying too much fertilizer – particularly if you’re applying a synthetic, salt-based fertilizer.
Since blueberries also require a very acidic soil pH, it’s also very important that the blueberry fertilizer you use does not raise the soil pH.
So you’ll want to take a conservative approach to feeding your blueberry plants, both in the quantity and quality of the blueberry food you supply to them.
The Best Blueberry Food…
Your best bet for choosing a blueberry fertilizer would be to select one that is mixed specifically for acid-loving plants.
Fertilizer formulated specifically for azaleas should work just fine for blueberries, since azaleas and blueberries are closely related. Azalea fertilizer is also often labeled for camellias and rhododendrons, and you can probably find it at most garden shops.
An advantage of using a fertilizer mixed specifically for acid-loving plants is that you can simply follow the label instructions for feeding your blueberry plants. That will largely eliminate the guesswork in deciding how much and how frequently to feed your plants.
And most of these fertilizers will also provide a balance of macro and micronutrients. So you won’t have to worry about whether you’re feeding your berry bushes a balanced diet.
Other Fertilizers Recommended for Blueberries
Ammonium sulfate is the most frequently recommended synthetic fertilizer for blueberries. It’s particularly suited for fertilizing blueberries because it tends to lower the pH of the soil.
If your soil pH is naturally low (under 5.0), then a urea-based fertilizer will probably work best for you, since urea is not as acidifying as ammonium sulfate.
When selecting a fertilizer for blueberries, be sure to only consider those that supply nitrogen in the ammonium form. Avoid using fertilizers that supply nitrogen in the form of nitrates, because that type of fertilizer can damage or even kill your blueberry plants.
Organic Fertilizers for Blueberries
If you prefer to garden organically, blueberries will be a great addition to your garden because they have relatively few serious insect and disease problems (essentially none, in my personal experience).
And because blueberries require relatively low levels of fertilizers, it’s easier to supply their nutritional needs organically than it is for some other crops.
But if you’re using organic fertilizers, you still need to be careful to use only fertilizers that will tend to lower pH – or at least not raise it. Cottonseed meal and blood meal are examples of acidifying organic fertilizers, and both are recommended for blueberries.
Be careful about using manure for fertilizer. Composted manure is great, but applying fresh manure is not a good idea (unless you apply it several months before planting).
How to Apply Blueberry Fertilizer
If you’re using a fertilizer mix that’s formulated for acid-loving plants, you’ll simply follow the label directions.
But if you’re using a general purpose fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate, here are some general guidelines for fertilizing blueberries:
The amount of fertilizer to apply will depend upon the type of soil you have, its fertility level, the type of fertilizer you’re using, and the age of your blueberry bushes.
But in general, using ammonium sulfate as an example, apply 2 tablespoons in early spring, and another 2 tablespoons in late spring for first year bushes.
In the second and third years, apply 2 to 4 tablespoons in early spring, and repeat in late spring.
In the following years, apply ¼ cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons in early spring, and then apply 2 to 4 tablespoons in late spring.
When applying fertilizer, sprinkle it evenly in a circular band under the drip zone of the plant. This is important for 2 reasons:
Blueberries aren’t good at translocating nutrients from one side of the plant to the other. So if the bulk of the fertilizer is applied on one side of the plant, you won’t be feeding the entire plant effectively.
Blueberries have shallow, close-to-the-surface root systems. That makes them susceptible to being burned by a concentrated application of fertilizer.
Unless you can time your fertilizer application to fall shortly before a nice rain shower, be sure to water in the fertilizer.
If you’re using drip irrigation (which is an excellent means of watering blueberries), be aware that simply irrigating with your drip system won’t do an adequate job of watering in the fertilizer. You’ll either need to get some rain shortly after applying the fertilizer, or run a sprinkler for a bit after applying the fertilizer.
Easy Does It
Learning to apply the correct amounts of blueberry fertilizer can be somewhat of a trial-and-error process, because so many variables are involved that are unique to your garden soil and your environment.
But while you’re learning the ropes of how to fertilize your blueberry plants, always err on the side of applying smaller quantities of fertilizer. You’re MUCH more likely to harm your plants by over-applying blueberry fertilizer than by under-applying.
Following the label recommendations of your fertilizer will get you off to a great start. But even so, you might find that you’ll need to tweak your blueberry fertilization program just a bit.
It’s simply a matter of observing how your plants respond, and learning over time what works best for your growing environment.
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