Thursday, May 8, 2014

How to grow blueberries in greater Houston

They are not found naturally on the upper Texas coast, but they are soooo worth the small amount of effort that it takes to grow them:
They're heee-eere!!!
This year's crop of blueberries is now arriving.  And you have to remember that they taste 10x as good as store-bought.

Note to husband:  Don't bother bringing Mother's Day flowers.  I've got blueberries!!!!
And they taste good to every other creature out there also, especially mockingbirds.  Bird netting costs about ten bucks a roll and is highly necessary at the point of ripening.  
A year ago, my two bushes looked like this:
Pretty scrawny, and the pinkish one in the foreground was suffering from bad soil chemistry to the point where I didn't think it would survive.

That's Swiss chard in the center, not blueberries, obviously.  
A few weeks ago before they got tented with bird netting, they looked like this:
Much improved with an enormous amount of growth for one year, and the little guy on the right recovered well once I adjusted the soil.  
As I discussed in a previous post, our local soils are not sufficiently acidic to support blueberries, which is why I grow them in culvert scraps where I can control the chemistry.  But it does not take a lot of skill to do achieve good soil conditions and a good crop, as this next series of photos will show.

Not all cultivars are suitable for subtropical Houston.  I'm having good luck with SpringHigh, which requires very low chill requirements (blueberry plants generally have to experience a cold weather spell to set fruit).  Locally I buy these plants from Faith's Garden Shed which sells at the Clear Lake Shores Farmers Market.

The smaller cultivar in the right side culvert scrap above is a different strain, which is necessary for pollination purposes.  But I forget the name of it.  If you're buying plants, ask the vendor which are the best to put together for home gardening purposes.  Pollination is very important for blueberries, as I discussed in this post about the role of bees.

 This unrelated Houstonian blueberry fanatic lists additional cultivars that he has experimented with.  Houston is very cool.  Our metro area is so large that it contains at least one fanatic for every conceivable hobby, including blueberry growing.  
My plants don't seem to be very fussy about the soil, which I mix as comprising about 25% regular potting soil, 50% peat moss, and 25% compost.  See this web entry for additional detail (scroll down through it).    
I toss in a small amount of this stuff (a few ounces per a large planter), just to be on the safe side in creating acid conditions.  This is soil sulfur, available at most hardware stores in the gardening section.  
Plus I add a big fistful of Microlife fertilizer.  It looks like hamster food.  
That's about the extent of it.  Mix up the soil, plant, and water frequently (not too dry, not too wet) especially if you're using an isolated section of a raised bed or large container, because they dry out quickly in our area.  I don't even bother to test my resulting pH (hassle).  If the plants don't look like they're doing well, I just fiddle with the soil until they respond.  
This was my latest addition this year, also a SpringHigh.  He has survived the past month in a large pot of that soil I mixed in my wheelbarrow.  I plan to eventually add him to the central culvert scrap to complete the assembly.  
I have one other secret ingredient to my blueberry soil:
Spent green tea leaves.  I don't drink coffee, just different teas, and rather than composting the leaves, I dump each day's yield directly into the blueberry planters.  They seem to love it.  
And if you'll excuse me now, it's definitely time to eat.

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