Almost everyone loves to eat Georgia peaches, and Georgia is known as the Peach State, but many people do not realize that the blueberry is actually more significant to Georgia agriculture in terms of acreage and total value than the peach. According to the 2013 UGA Farm Gate Value Report, there are around 28,000 acres of blueberry plantings compared to around 12,000 acres of peach plantings in the state of Georgia. Many people enjoy eating blueberries because they are very tasty and healthy to eat. Blueberries are native to Georgia and are well suited to be grown in the backyard because they grow well and are seldom affected by insects and disease in most parts of Georgia. For these reasons, many people are interested in planting home blueberries.
The first thing that needs to be done if considering a blueberry planting is to take a soil test. Blueberries need acidic soil that has a pH between 4.5 and 5.2. A soil test will tell you what the pH is along with the soil nutrient levels. Many Georgia soils are naturally acidic, so if no soil amendments have been made, then it is likely that the soil pH will be close to where it needs to be. The pH can be lowered if needed by the addition of sulfur. It is best to plant blueberries in the winter months of the year on sites that have sunlight for at least half of the day. Blueberries grow best on sites that are very well drained and do not stay wet for prolonged periods of time.
The two types of blueberries grown in Georgia are the rabbiteye and the highbush. The rabbiteye blueberry is by far the better choice for home plantings because it is hardier and requires less care than the highbush. When planting the bushes, several different varieties should be planted together so that they will pollinate each other. A common spacing for rabbiteye blueberries is to plant the bushes five to six feet apart in the row and eleven to twelve feet apart between the rows. Before planting, the soil should be tilled in a strip 3-4 feet wide and 8-12 inches deep. It would be beneficial to mix around 2-4 gallons of fine pine bark to the planting hole, depending on the size, to increase organic matter and help acidify the soil. The plants should be planted at the depth that they were grown in the nursery. After planting the plants should be pruned back one third to one half of the plant size, the shoots should be tipped, and the twiggy growth on the bottom of the bush should be removed. Wait until after the leaves emerge and the plant begins growth before fertilizing and then fertilize with one ounce of 10-10-10, or a similar fertilizer, per plant. Fertilize again in May and July with one ounce of 10-10-10 and make sure to spread out the fertilizer in a circle eighteen inches in diameter around the plant. Make sure to keep weeds and grass from growing around the plants because they hinder plant growth and establishment greatly. Mulching with pine-bark or pine-straw would be a good strategy to fight weeds and retain soil moisture. Irrigating your blueberries would help greatly with their establishment and growth. Additional care will be needed after establishment and the first year’s growth, and further information about caring for your blueberries can be found on the University of Georgia Extension website at extension.uga.edu.