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Mr. Smarty Plants - Stress in potted Tif blueberry plants

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Friday - August 15, 2008

From: New Braunfels, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Soils, Transplants, Shade Tolerant, Shrubs
Title: Stress in potted Tif blueberry plants
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Recently purchased Tif Blue Blueberry plants (about 3 ft tall)are showing signs of stress. They are in 10 gallon pots. Should they be transplanted? Medium? Fertilizer? Location? Trimming?

ANSWER:

We can be pretty sure that your blueberry plants are suffering from transplant stress, without even being transplanted. Most commercially available plants these days have been propagated and raised in greenhouses, often in California, then shipped to nurseries, where they are still kept in a greenhouse-type situation, with shade roofs if not actually inside air conditioning, and misting probably every day or more often. They have often been forced into leaf and even flowers well before they are mature enough to flower naturally, in order to make them more saleable. Then, the gardener picks them out and takes them home and introduces them to the real world. You'd probably wilt a little too if you were subjected to the same shock. To begin with, no, don't transplant them now, that would be insult to injury. Second, give them some shade. Blueberries grow on the forest floor in their natural state. Although they need sun to produce fruit the most effectively, you are not going to be concerned with fruiting on those bushes for probably a couple years. Right now, they need protection from the Texas sun, not to mention the heat wave we have been having since April in Central Texas.

Next, treat them as for transplant shock. Trim off 1/4 to 1/3 of their upper structure, leaving as many leaves as possible on the lower structure for nutrition for the plant. Give the pots a good gentle soaking about every other day, checking always to make sure the pot is draining so that the roots are not sitting in a swamp. For the time being, no fertilizer, not until they are recovered.

And, what happens next? Tifblue is apparently a cultivar of Vaccinium ashei, also called rabbiteye grape, one of the most common grapes in the South. Where should you plant your bushes? How about Georgia? If you look at the USDA Plant Profile for the genus Vaccinium, you will find very few Texas counties, in the far eastern part of Texas, that have conditions good for grape-growing. Look at the profile for Georgia, and you'll see that you can grow grapes in every single county. The thing is, most of the western United States have predominantly alkaline soil, and certainly that's what we have in Central Texas. East Texas has a sandy, acid soil that is good for blueberries. But, East Texas or Georgia would be a long walk for a blueberry snack. You're not going to be very excited when you find out what you're going to need to do to grow those berries in New Braunfels. This is not the right time of year to plant them, which is good, because you're supposed to spend a year in advance of planting preparing a bed with the appropriate soil in it. Maybe you can cheat a little and get the soil ready by Spring, after the last freeze date in your area, and plant them then.

There are a number of websites on growing blueberries, but most of them are from places like Wisconsin and North Carolina and Oregon, where they have deciduous trees and evergreen pines, that make the soil acidic and therefore, an easy grow for blueberries. We did find one from the Texas A&M Horticulture extension rabbiteye blueberries. Just to summarize, you are going to want to keep those blueberries in their pots until Spring. In the meanwhile, you're going to need to build a raised bed, with specially prepared acidic soil, in which to put the plants. You could keep the plants in their pots indefinitely, if that's what you want to do to keep the soil right for them, but as they grow, you're going to need to transplant them to ever-bigger pots. Better to just bite the bullet and make them a good bed with acidic soil now. Be sure to note the recommendations for spacing and fertilizing in the A&M article.

And next time, before you buy a plant, check first to see if it will grow without undue preparations in your area. The best way to do this is to use native plants, and to go to our Native Plant Suppliers section to find nurseries, seed companies and landscape consultants in your area that specialize in native plants. We understand that when the blueberries hit the grocery stores, the nurseries are going to have blueberry plants for sale, but it's not quite as easy as buying the plant and taking it home, as you now know. Just because a nursery carries a plant doesn't mean it's appropriate for the area in which it is sold.

 

 

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