August 4, 2011

500 Days of Blueberries

Debbie at A Garden of Possibilities ran a drawing recently on her blog, and I won. 

She wrote a great profile of Vaccinium corymbosum, the blueberry bush.  The giveaway was a copy of A Gardener's Guide to Blueberries from Fall Creek Nursery.

This is so perfect.  The guide is in the mail, on its way to save the faltering relationship between a gardener and her blueberries. 

My relationship with four 'Northblue' vaccinium corymbosum plants has been up and down.  This may help me save it.

Did you see the movie 500 Days of Summer?  It's not about gardening in the heat and sun.  It's a gimmicky boy meets girl romance with a girl named Summer and at the end after the sad breakup he meets another girl named Autumn.  Intensely gimmicky. Cute. The whole film is full of visual tricks and ploys, but the movie is actually entertaining.

One film stunt is several minutes of split screen running two narratives side by side.  One side is titled "Expectation" and the other is "Reality".   Same scenes, different takes.

Well, I have 500 Days of Blueberries running in my garden.  Expectation and Reality are at odds.  Here is the split screen tale of my troubled relationship with the blueberries I am growing:

Luscious fruit.  Abundant berries.  Deep blue round treasures dusted in a soft blush.  If you net them against the critters, you can have blueberries on your cereal each morning in July.

I did, I did. . . . I got blueberries the first three years, and the picture below proves it.  But this year, despite lots of flowers, I did not get any fruits.  None. They simply flowered this spring, and then the flowers fell off.
My harvest, July 2009
The best explanation is a cold snap and wet period right at the time of pollination, followed by very hot and dry conditions.  Just the wrong timing for the pollinators.  You think?  Could that be?  Will they fruit next year? 

Brilliant fall color.  Red, eye popping autumn foliage.

Nah.  Each year the foliage got a leaf spot problem and dropped early.  I never got any fall color.  Last year I sprayed with Neem, and did get some rusty red action going, but the leaves dropped off before the feathery amsonias behind them turned their lovely yellow color.
Not much color, and no contrast with the amsonias
I try to limit overhead watering, which could cause leaf spot.  I'm not sure what else to do.  I've seen the colors that vaccinium plants can achieve, and mine is not there.

Expectation and reality.  Unrequited love.  All playing out in a garden plot next to the house.

My plants are in acid soil, a must for blueberries.  My soil is naturally slightly acid, and when these were planted I added a ton of peat moss.  'Northblue' is fully self fertile, so they do not need other blueberry plants around to flower and fruit. They are well watered, which their shallow roots need.  They do bloom, they grow, and during the early summer the plants look good, a nice clean green filler in between the taller amsonias and some groundcover geraniums.

But the late season leaf problems and the lack of any fruit this year eliminate two of the reasons for growing blueberries.  Such expectations.  Such disappointment.

The guide I won in the drawing is therefore timely for me.  I need to see if I can save this fractured relationship with a plant I really want to love but can't seem to be happy with.

Thanks, Debbie.


  1. I hope the book helps. My Sister who has the patience of a saint removed the blueberry bushes from her garden. That tells me I shouldn't even try. I just go to the blueberry farm not far from here to pick. No hassles. No disappointments.

  2. Hey! That's awesome to win!
    I do know that even with self-fertile, your numbers increase with another cultivar. I see them climbing in popularity, one college we visited had them planted among the yews, as landscape plants. If anyone can do it, you can!

  3. Congratulations on winning the book! I hope this helps you and your significant blueberries to have a better relationship:) That has to be so frustrating to not get berries this year. I don't have blueberries--our soil isn't acidic enough--but I have somewhat the same relationship with tomatoes. They always seem to get the wilt right in the heart of their growing season. This year they're looking good--fingers crossed.

  4. Ha! You've captured a gardener's life - expectations vs reality! Sorry to hear about your blueberries but my expectation is the book will help!

  5. I liked 500 Days of Summer. That's my brother-i-l's life. Seems it's every gardener's life, as you said. Blueberries are tricky. Still trying to get there with strawberries, personally.

  6. Very glad to hear you won the guide! Sounds like a timely win and may provide some of the answers you're looking for. I"ll be following along with your blueberry trials so when I finally get around to planting some bushes I'll hopefully have picked up some tips!

  7. Did you give your Knockouts the heave ho? Wondering if your blueberries will get a reprieve after reading the book. This year I caught sparrows pulling off pea blossoms. So I solved my poor production problem. Hope you answer yours.

  8. I don't have any advice to offer since my blueberries were "accidentally" mowed over in a freak wheelbarrow accident. If you have a blueberry U-Pick-It place, it might be worth it to ask the farmers for their perspective since they grow berries for a living. It's also possible your berries are playing mind games with you. Do you ever hear a slight chuckle from them when you walk by?? Just something to think about....

  9. Lisa, I guess they are a little fussier than I thought to grow.

    Sissy, The fruit is great, but mostly I want these as landscape plants. You do see more and more planting of blueberries an ornamental shrubs.

    Rose, Good luck with the tomatoes. That's another plant I have had trouble rowing well!

    Cat, Expectation vs. Reality, the story of our lives in a garden. Sigh.

    Susan, I hope your strawberries do better than my sad blueberries.

    Marguerite, Blueberries would be perfect along with your apple orchard, so I hope you plant them and get better results than I do.

    Donna, The knockout roses are still with me this season, but may go next spring. Seriously, the birds eat the blossoms before the fruit? Oh no.

    TS, Your poor decapitated blueberries. How sad. Yes, of course my plants all play games with me, since I'm such an easy mark for their pranks. I get so upset when they don;'t flower or fruit or behave. I know it makes them laugh!

  10. That is incredibly frustrating. I have one small blueberry plant and it hasn't grown in 2 years. It is literally a twig with a few leaves on it. Perhaps I should dig it up and move it to a sunnier location or add more compost. I find that blueberries are certainly a fickle plant.

  11. Let's hope the information in the book solves my blueberry problems as well ... I'm right there with you.

  12. I can't help because we just have wild ones here. Our soil is very acid (5 - 5.5) and the foliage never drops early. I'd be frustrated too, no fruit *and* no fall color. Double bummer. :(

  13. Meemsnyc, Blueberries need very acid soil, so that's the main deterrant to growing them. Few of us have soil in the 4.5 to 5.0 range!

    Joene, I'm hearing from so many who are having trouble growing blueberries.

    Sweetbay, It really is a double bummer! At least they are a nice filler in summer in my garden.

  14. Ha! I won the same book! (Hope there wasn't a mistake or anything, but I guess there was more than one winner.)

    I'm looking forward to reading it in January.

  15. Fern, I think there were several giveaways of the guide. Glad you got one too (do you grow blueberries?).

  16. Laurrie, Though my husband thinks that I am nuts and sees no charm in it, I happen to like the movie the 500 Days of Summer. To me it is quirky and original. To my husband it is just plain boring.
    Growing blueberries is tough or so I hear. (I have never grown any myself.) From everything I have ever read, they like things just so.

  17. Jennifer, I actually liked 500 Days as well. It was goofy, but intentionally so, and the ending was bittersweet. And yes, the movie was quirky!

  18. Laurrie, I hpe the book solves some of your porblems with your blueberry plants. It can be so frustrating to wait and wait for a plant to do it's thing and then nothing much happens.

    I'm growing 'Patriot' in my garden. Last winter, I was pleasantly surprised by how colorful the branches were (a lovely pink color) but this spring I had a small # of flowers and therefore not many berries. In my garden, I think the main problem with any underperformance is not enough sun.

    Good luck.

  19. Debbie, thanks! The guide came today and it does have very sensible and helpful advice. Nothing on flower drop though. I do think it was a weird brief window of just the wrong temps and moisture at just the wrong time this spring.

  20. Hi Laurrie, Hope you're enjoying the new book you won. I'm part of the Fall Creek team - publisher of A Gardener's Guide To Blueberries. We developed that book to simplify gardening with blueberries. They are typically an easy plant to grow.

    I asked one of our resident experts about your situation. As long as that variety is best suited to your region which is sounds like it is if you've gotten fruit before, variety selection isn't the issue.

    He said typically when we see twiggy plants like what you show in your photos, it's likely an issue of not enough nutrients or water. Try adding some fertilizer in the spring. Drip irrigation is ideal if you can do that. You want to keep the root zone moist from spring through the end of harvest.

    There are some leaf diseases in your part of the country too. Selecting just the right variety can help prevent this. Talk to you local garden center or Nourse Farms is a good resource.

    I always throw in a bit about pruning too. Late winter pruning is critical to blueberries. It seems counterintuitive but you really must prune all the dead wood and lateral canes - actually about 1/3rd to 1/2 of the wood. It aids in fruit production. Don't shear across the whole top of the plant.

    See if any of this helps. We'd love to hear an update.

    And for your readers who might be interested in A Gardener's Guide To Blueberries, here are details on ordering:

    Good luck with your blueberries! They can be truly rewarding plants with year round beauty and abundant fruit. Happy gardening!
    Amy D

  21. Amy D, this winter I am going to do the pruning that the guide recommends, I know that will help. And I will fertilize in spring. (I actually think they got too much water this past spring when it rained nonstop in May. Mother nature doesn't help sometimes).

    Thanks for the help and advice!


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