Q: “I'm writing for advice on planting blueberry bushes. I've done enough research online to be dangerous! (Meaning I've read a lot, but still not sure what to do!) I received two blueberry bushes as a gift, one a Biloxi blueberry bush (Zone 8, 20 to 10) and the other one an Elliot blueberry bush (Zone 4, -20 to -30). I'm concerned the Biloxi bush will not survive our winter temps. Plus I have Indiana clay, not the best for growing blueberry bushes. So, do you think the Biloxi bush stands a chance of surviving? What should I do to prepare the soil, how far apart should I plant them and I'm guessing to plant them in full sun? I appreciate any advice you can give me in attempting to grow blueberries in Allen County!”
• Blueberries need acid soil, rich in nutrients supplied by using plenty of compost, and planted in a well drained sunny location. (You can add well rotted manure now when you plant if you have access to it.)
• Our soil in Allen County is very alkaline (about 7 which is neutral) so you will need to lower it to become acid which blueberries need (a pH of 5 is best). (A soil test is always a good plan. Call the Extension at 481-6826, option 2 for instructions on getting a soil test).
• Choose a well-drained area of your garden — if you aren't sure, do a test by digging down 5 or 6 inches, fill with water, and see how long it takes for the water to go down. If it doesn't go down in 15 minutes or less, do not plant in that area.
• When you find the right location, dig out a large area at least 12 to 18 inches wide and 20 inches deep. You need to remove enough clay so that the roots have space to grow and expand.
• You are right, the Biloxi will need to be planted in a container so you can set it somewhere in winter such as an attached garage or a cool basement.
• Also purchase or if you already have one, reserve a large container (think half barrel size) for the Biloxi if you plan on that being its permanent home.
• Buy a bale of the dry peat moss called sphagnum at any Lowe's or Menard's. (Sphagnum will lower the pH and it is sterile — no weeds.)
• Mix together some clay, a lot of the sphagnum and a generous portion of compost and manure (if you have some) — when done, you should have enough of this mixture to plant the bush in the ground and the Biloxi in the container.
• You have some growing season left, so plant as soon as you can so both plants will be established before winter.
• Water well and continue to water so the soil stays moist — never soggy.
• The sphagnum is dry and will be more difficult to receive moisture at first so a good drenching everyday for awhile will help that problem as well as help the plant to become established.
• The bush in the soil should have room to grow tall and wide so if it is planted near other things, leave 4 to 5 feet between plants.
• Blueberries aren't fussy plants and will grow almost anywhere — but in order to have fruit, they need to be planted in the right location and in acid soil.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.