After learning about how blueberries are a healthful superfood and that they can grow in Iowa, many gardeners set out to try to grow them in their own landscapes. However, it takes some planning to be successful. Linn County Master Gardener Deb Walser gives us the rundown.
Q: I am thinking about planting blueberries next spring. Is there something I can do this fall?
A: Yes, you can. Fall is the perfect time to adjust your soil.
Iowa soils are not suitable for blueberries unless modified. Blueberries need an acid soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. This is considered ideal for blueberries. Yellow foliage and slow growth is caused by high-pH soil. If soil isn’t modified, the blueberry plants will die in time. Iowa soils are naturally at about pH 6.0. Blueberry plants are long-lived and modifying the soil is worth the time. First, start with a soil test now to find your pH rating.
Time and effort in preparing the planting site is a wise investment since blueberries will live more than 50 years if planted correctly.
Choose a site in at least six hours of full sun. High bush blueberries will require 5 feet to 6 feet of space each. Half high blueberries will need 3 feet to 4 feet of space.
The location will need to be close to a water source. Blueberries need 3 inches of water per week. Water is most important during the spring when the flowers and fruit are forming. However, blueberries will not tolerate poor drainage in the soil.
There are several ways to lower the pH of your soil. Once you have your pH rating, you can start lowering your pH by modifying your soil.
Mix 4 to 6 inches of acid peat into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. The peat acidifies the soil as it decomposes and increases the soil organic matter.
Use 1 pound to 2 pounds of elemental sulfur to 50 square feet, this will reduce pH by one point. Elemental sulfur takes at least one year to adjust the pH. Check pH again at six months to one year.
Iron sulfate reacts much faster than elemental sulfur (less than one month); however, the cost is greater. Multiply the rate of elemental sulfur needed by six to determine the required amount of iron sulfate.
Aluminum sulfate is not recommended, although it can acidify soil, because high rates of this compound can be toxic to roots.
When your site is prepared, spread organic matter to a width of about 3 feet and a depth of 3.5 inches to improve soil aeration and drainage. Yard compost can raise your pH because it often has high pH and can be high in salts. There are composts that contain acid elements to lower the pH and those should be used.
By following these steps, you can grow blueberries in Iowa. With a little extra effort and work, produce grown in your own garden tastes better and in the end is economical too.
- Second Annual Eastern Iowa Orchid Show and Sale, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at Noelridge Park Greenhouse, 4900 Council St. NE, Cedar Rapids. This will be a regional orchid show with flowering orchid displays by orchid societies from Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, and Iowa plus individual and vendor displays. Orchid flowers and entire exhibits will be evaluated by judges from the American Orchid Society. In addition to beautiful floor and table top orchid displays, a wide variety of orchid plants will be for sale from reputable vendors. The public is asked to come and vote for the ‘People’s Choice Award’ for the best orchid display in the show. Learn about repotting and basic orchid culture at hands on lectures given at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily. Free.
- Beginner’s Garden Photography Class, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Hiawatha Public Library, 150 W. Willman St., Hiawatha. Linn County Master Gardener Lori Bailey will give simple tips on taking garden photos, handy equipment, and computer photo basics to make anyone a great nature photographer.
- Permeable Pavement Project, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at Prairiewoods, 120 E. Boyson Rd., Hiawatha. Observe permeable pavement installation to learn how to do it at your house. Permeable pavers allow rainwater to drain back into the ground, rather than diverting it to storm sewers. They help reduce stormwater run-off, reduce our impact on the water cycle by filtering water back into the ground and improve water quality. For more information, please Contact: Emy Sautter, (319) 395-6700 Ext 222, email@example.com. Freewill offering. First Annual Harvest Dinner Friday, 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at NewBo City Market, Cedar Rapids. Cost: $75.
- Gather Prairie Seed for Your Yard, 10 a.m. Saturday at Indian Creek Nature Center, 6665 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids. Learn restoration basics and seed collection strategies. Collect seed for your prairie project. Bring a paper bag for seed collecting. $15. Register: www.indiancreeknaturecenter.org, (319) 362-0664.
- Choosing and Planting Native Shrubs for your Backyard, 1 p.m. Saturday at Indian Creek Nature Center, 6665 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids. Learn about appropriate species and growth patterns, and join land steward Jean Wiedenheft for a hazelnut shrub planting. Free.
- Edible Forest Maze Sheet Mulching, 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 at Wetherby Park, 2400 Taylor Dr., Iowa City. Interested in edible landscaping and permaculture principles? Come lend a hand at this free community mulching event. Help us keep the Wetherby Park Edible Forest Maze in shape and it will reward the community with bountiful harvests in years to come.Participants will receive a guided tour of the area to see how the fruiting trees and shrubs have grown two years after planting. We will then sheet mulch several of the garden areas. Volunteers are welcome to bring pitch forks, steel rakes and wheelbarrows.
- Tree Care 101 Class, Monday, October 28th, 6:30-7:30pm at the Hiawatha Public Library (150 W Willman St, Hiawatha)From roots to leaves, it’s a breeze. Plant it and it will grow, right? It depends! Learn the proper way to plant, water, and prune. Join Linn County Master Gardener Wil Carew as he covers the basics. Call 319.377.9839 for more information.
- Thinking about a Home Greenhouse? Wednesday, October 30th, 6:30-7:30pm at the Cedar Rapids Ladd Library (3750 Williams Blvd, CR)Linn County Master Gardener Phil Pfister will teach you what’s necessary for setting up and operating a home greenhouse including site selection, greenhouse material options, calculating heating and cooling requirements, plant care, and integrated pest management. Call 319.377.9839 for more information.
- State and Local Planning for Water IssuesWednesday, October 30th, 7-8:30pm at the Eastside Recycling Center (2401 Scott Blvd SE, Iowa City)Dr. Mary Skopec, Stream Monitoring Coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will give an overview of the Iowa Water Plan and discuss efforts underway to monitor streams across Iowa for pesticides, bacteria, pharmaceuticals or other water contaminants. Visit http://www.icgov.org/?id=2256 for more information.
Questions on gardening, land use or local foods? Contact Michelle Kenyon Brown, community ag programs manager at Linn County Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org.