Editor’s Note: Effective April 29, Richard Hentschel retired from the University of Illinois Extension with nearly 30 years of service as a horticultural specialist and educator in Northern Illinois. As this growing season begins, a selection of qualified guest columnists from Extension will fill this space. In time, another extension educator will join our communities and likely continue this column, a longstanding Kendall County tradition.
Blueberries not only provide delicious and nutritious berries, but they also display pretty spring flowers and spectacular fall foliage in shades of yellow, orange and red.
Blueberry plants can be tricky to grow, but are worth the effort. They prefer acidic soil with a pH around 5.0. (PH is an acidity scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral.) Our soils in Northern Illinois are not naturally acidic, and a soil test will indicate your soil’s current pH. To increase soil acidity, amend the soil with peat moss and add sulfur to the soil, according to package directions, when planting. Annual applications of sulfur will be necessary to maintain soil acidity.
Blueberries also require well-drained soil enriched with organic matter, a full sun site, and supplemental water when Mother Nature does not provide at least an inch per week. Mulching with an organic mulch like wood chips, composted leaves or pine needles will control weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Highbush types and hybrids are most successful in our area. Blue Jay, Bluecrop, Elliott, Northland and Patriot are cultivars often found in local garden centers. Blueberries don’t need different varieties for cross-pollination, but produce more and larger berries if planted with a few of their cousins.
Dig a hole for each plant at least twice as wide as the pot it was growing in and place it at the same depth it was growing in its pot. Mix copious amounts of compost with excavated soil and fill the hole. After planting, water the plants thoroughly to help them settle into their new home. Space the plants 4 to 6 feet apart.
Blueberries should be fertilized one week after planting with 1 ounce of a fertilizer containing magnesium (20-0-10 + 5), followed by ammonium sulfate each spring as new growth begins.
If you have a heart, it is best to remove the flowers from the plants the first two years so that they can use all their energy to produce shoots and roots.
Young plants require little pruning, but damaged or spindly shoots should be removed. Mature plants should be pruned while still dormant in early spring.
Wouldn’t it be worth the extra work to pick a handful of fresh blueberries for your cereal bowl or smoothie every morning? And imagine taking a bite of homemade blueberry pie.
• Do you have questions for the Master Gardeners at the University of Illinois Extension? You can call, email or visit during the growing season. Learn more about connecting with the Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk at go.illinois.edu/HelpDeskMGdkkor call 630-553-5823 or visit during business hours, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7775-B, Route 47, Yorkville.