Some cousins from distant shores stopped in briefly the other day en route to Canada. And in the heat and humidity that had been Boston for much of this summer, it seemd that the most hospitable thing we could do was to serve fruit salad for dessert -- diced apple, oranges, cantaloupe, watermelon, plus some strawberries and grapes.
They were delighted with the repast and everything went along well. After all, it was everday fare for folsk who hail from a fruit-rich corner of South Africa; that is, until we threw in the blueberries. These were something new to them. Distinctly North American, the berries won approving comments all around.
"If you like them fresh," we said, "wait till you taste them in a pie."
Cultivated varieties grow almost everywhere in the United States and, and the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening puts it: "[Blueberries] grow wild among the redwoods of California, on forest hillsides of the state of maine, and onthe broad crests of the Appalachina ridges."
Indeed, if anything is more American than apple pie, it has to be blueberries.
In the duscussion that followed, I was remined that blueberries are one of the fruits that do well if planted in the fall, even in the North. September, even October, is a suitable month in New England and states in similar latitudes. Farther south they can on in a month later.
In soil that stays moderately warm, even though November in the North, the blueberry roots have ample time to develop and establish themselves in their new home before the onslaught of winter. Then in the spring they take off in rocketlife fashion, compared with newly made plantings.
Digging a generous planting hole is important, but don't fill it with nitrogen-rich materials at this stage. The soft and luxuriant growth that readily available nitrogen might promote will not be able to witstand the winter. In fact, good stands of wild blueberries tell us what they like best: light, sandy soils, rich in humus, and covered with a permanent mulch of leaves, twigs, and other natural debris.
Soft "woodsy soil" is another way to describe ti. Blueberries also like an acid soil, something betweeh 4.5 and 5.6 on the pH scale.
Knowing this, then fill the planting holes with a 50-50 mix of soil and peat moss, or substitute shredded oak leaves for the peat.Well-rotted sawdust is another useful substitute. These materials will increase the acidity of the soil. You might also add a dusting of sulfur to the soil and dig it in to further boost acidity.
Set the bushes out 5 to 6 feet apart in rows. Space the rows at least 8 feet apart to allow for comfortable working space when the bushes mature.
When planting, spread the roots out and begin filling around the plant with the moisten soil mix. When it is half filled, tamp the soil down around the roots and add water. Now fill the hole to the top and repeat the process. As a general rule, set the blueberry bush about 1 inch deeper than it was in the nursery soil. If you're not sure of the original soil level, plant the bush so that the crown is between 1 and 2 inches above the soil line.
Now add a mulch of ground leaves, sawdust, or pine needles, or a mix of all three to a depth of several inches. See that the mulch extends a good 2 feet out from the center of the small bush. When winter approaches, mound up more leaves around the bush to protect the crown from drying winter winds and to prevent frost heaving.
Water well but see that the roots are never left standing in water. Never recylce dish-washing water on your blueberry bushes. The detergents in the water contain sodium, which tends to raise the pH, something your acid-loving blueberries do not want.
In the spring, fertilize your blueberries with an inch layer of mature compost or well-rotted cow or horse manure. Avoid compost that has been made with lime (which raises the pH). For the same reason, do not use lime-rich chicken manure.