How to grow blueberries even when they don’t like your soil

Blueberries are divine, but blueberry bushes are finicky about the soil they will thrive in. I’ll show you how to be successful in growing blueberry bushes that produce oodles of blueberries, even if you don’t have the right kind of soil to please them. (So there!)

Originally published in 2013, updated in June 2022.

reddish blueberry leaves with berries on bush

Blueberry dreams.

Years ago I dreamed of growing my own blueberries. It is common knowledge that blueberries aren’t easy to grow here in our part of the Midwest, since our soil tends to be alkaline, and blueberry bushes are on the fussy side. They only thrive in high acid soil. They grow wonderfully, I hear, in Michigan, and they grow wild in Maine . . . and I’m sure there are other parts of the world where growing them is easy as falling off the proverbial log.

But it’s not easy to grow blueberries when they don’t like your soil.

Here in Nebraska, gooseberry bushes grow wild; raspberry brambles grow like weeds; blackberry brambles are no trick to grow either, but I don’t know a single person here in our area who has succeeded at growing blueberry bushes.

Not. One. Person. Many have tried, however.

Well, not until (ahem) now. Our blueberry bushes are thriving. Not that this trick has been an easy one to figure out, oh no.

When we were in New Zealand a couple of years ago (she drops, ever-so-casually), we picked blueberries at a farm whereby the bushes were nearly as tall as me, and the blueberries fell off the bushes by the handful when we touched them. It was magic. Blueberry magic.

Of course New Zealand is a magical and wondrous gardener’s dream land, so that’s not surprising. Heaven will be full of berries, I’m sure of it, of all colors and textures. There will be large white pitchers of cream, and you’ll be able to slosh the cream on your bowl of berries any time, day or night, with scant regard to calorie or fat content. Sigh. Or the wrong kind of soil inwhich to grow them.

“This is what I want,” I said to my husband through blue-stained lips and teeth, once I could catch my breath. “Let’s move to New Zealand, or else please help me grow a blueberry patch like this one.”

Oh, these delightful morsels of goodness are not easy to grow here in Nebraska!

Oh, these delightful morsels of goodness are not easy to grow here in Nebraska!

“We can’t move to New Zealand,” my husband said.

Well, he was right about that. We couldn’t then, and we certainly can’t now, because we now have twelve (twelve, gentle reader, as of this week!) adorable grandchildren here in the states to love on. Not to mention a job. And a bajillion critters to take care of. And that’s no exaggeration.

“So that means you’ll help me plant a blueberry patch?” I asked, pushing my advantage.

My good husband knows that my list of wants is a very long one. He turned to look at me. The love light was not in his eyes, Gentle Reader. “I’ll dig a few holes for you,” he said, reaching down to rub an imaginary ache in his lower back. (I think the ache was an imaginary one, at least.)

The farm where we were picking had several hundred blueberry bushes, and the six of us picked and picked until our buckets were full, and we ate quite a few of those warm berries, too, and the entire time I was just imagining being able to do this on our little farm in a few years. I was in a dizzy fog of longing and blueberry-infused delight.

You know that place, don’t you?

Back in the time machine, to a little town in Nebraska.

I was a little girl, and my dad did me the enormous favor of planting a couple of blueberry bushes next to our house. My second story bedroom overlooked that area of the yard, and my window was the perfect vantage point at which to assess the ripeness of said berries.

When I saw that the berries were starting to turn blue, I’d slip down ever so quietly, and . . . . well, I won’t tell you what I did. It was, after all, a selfish thing to do, but blueberry-hungry little girls can be selfish, can they not?

The songbirds got blamed, in any case, and songbirds are forgiven of anything.

My dad always puzzled aloud about how the birds knew just the moment when the berries were ripe enough to pick. Did he suspect that it wasn’t the birds, but . . . little me . . . who was harvesting the few berries that those bushes produced?

Probably. I don’t know. Maybe not. Possibly. I never said a word about it, obviously.Β  But I also never forgot the taste of those few berries I ate every summer.

Like heaven on my tongue, they were.

Sorry/not sorry, Dad.

Here's my dad and his great-granddaughter (and my granddaughter!) Anya picking a few blueberries

Here’s my dad picking blueberries at our place with his great-granddaughter (my granddaughter!) Anya.

 

Back to today.

This just possibly might factor into why I’ve worked so hard to grow my own. Also, perhaps, because so many people have told me that it couldn’t be done. I don’t know why they sets me off so much, but it does. If somebody tells me that I can’t do something, I feel my eyes–automatically! unconsciously!– narrowing, my shoulders squaring, and my fists clenching with resolve. And then I go work my hardest to prove that person wrong. Or at least, I try my best to do so.

So I did a little studying, a bit of research, and a modicum of experimentation, not to mention a whole lotΒ  of praying (doesn’t hurt!) and I planted my blueberry plants accordingly. My good (aforementioned) husband and son Timothy helped me dig the holes, and daughter Amalia has been a willing helper in watering and fertilizing them.

That was three years ago. Guess what, Gentle Readers?

We had a bumper crop of blueberries this year. Take a gander.

Yes! We grew these--amazing, no?

Yes! We grew these–amazing, no?

It worked like a charm.

So I’ve put together my (humble, simple, yet curiously effective) recommendations on how to grow blueberry bushes, even if they don’t like your soil.

The first thing you must know is that blueberry bushes prefer acid soil, and our soil here in Nebraska is alkaline. If blueberry bushes don’t grow wild in your neck of the woods, yours may be, too. So the trick is to change your soil, and that takes a bit of effort. Initially I found this information from a blueberry farm in Kansas that I bought my first shipment of bushes from. With the purchase of a few bushes, they sent me growing instructions, which (of course) I misplaced.

blueberry bush blossoms

This blueberry bush is loaded with blossoms. In no time at all they will be blueberries, ready to pick!

Good thing I remember those instructions very clearly. I’ve put together a compilation of everything I’ve learned about growing blueberries successfully in Nebraska, or any area where the soil is alkaline, rather than acid.

First, you need to buy bales of peat moss (we figured that it took one bale of peat moss to plant three bushes, roughly) and some fertilizer for acid-loving plants. You can buy both those things from your local farm store.

handful of blueberres poised over a bowl of batter

Amalia loves to make something delicious with blueberries as a main ingredient. πŸ™‚

Here’s how to plant your blueberry bushes:

  1. Order blueberry bushes suited for your area (we bought several “high bush” varieties, and they came bare-root and dormant).
  2. Dig a hole for each one, approximately 2′ deep and 2′ wide, about 5′ apart and in rows 8′ apart.Β  (This spacing will allow for plenty of growth of the bushes, and for mowing between the rows). (Note from several years later: I would now plant the bushes with only about 3′ between them, as my plants have not grown as big as I had hoped they would. You’ll have less real estate to weed that way.)
  3. Empty the peat moss into a deep wheelbarrow, or a very large bin or container.Β  Add water and stir until the peat moss is a thick, wet slurry.Β  Fill each hole with the now-sloppy peat moss. (Hint: do not attempt this on a windy day. The dry peat moss is very light and it will blow in your face and your nose and over to your neighbor’s place where it will do no good to anybody, and it may even annoy your neighbor).
  4. Plant the bushes in the peat moss, spreading the roots out as much as possible.
  5. Water each bush thoroughly.
  6. Put down several inches of mulch in a ring of at least 3 feet in diameter around each bush.Β  We have used many things for mulch–pine needles (which help encourage an acid soil), wood chips, straw, or whatever is available.
This bush has a nice crop of berries on it.

This bush has a nice crop of berries on it.

That’s the hard part.Β  Now you have a few orderly rows, or if you’re just putting in a few bushes, you have a few lovely bushes planted.Β  Now comes the maintenance phase.Β  If you neglect this basic maintenance, your bushes won’t fare so well, and you won’t be eating fistfuls of blueberries in a few years, so don’t neglect it!

Here’s how you maintain your blueberry bushes:

  1. Water:Β  Give your bushes one to two inches of water once (or even twice) a week during the growing season.Β  It is nearly impossible to over-water blueberry bushes, as they are very thirsty plants. Drip tape is an ideal thing to use here, especially if you put down landscape cloth for mulch.
  2. Fertilizer: Once a month during the growing season, apply fertilizer for acid-loving plants at the rate of 1 Tablespoon dissolved in a gallon of water.Β  If the leaves seem to be extra small or the plant appears less than thrifty (you’ll soon note when the plants seem to be thriving, and when they look like they need a little extra care) do a second application of fertilizer that month.
  3. Weeds: Keep the area within 3 feet of your blueberry bushes free of weeds, so there is absolutely no competition for nutrients and water.Β  I tired of pulling weeds pretty quickly, and after a couple of years wised up and put landscape fabric down and have never looked back.
Don't my blueberry bushes look happy here, surrounded by black landscape cloth and some woodchips?

Don’t my blueberry bushes look happy here, surrounded by black landscape cloth and woodchips? This is a healthy, happy blueberry bush.

So there you go!

Yes, Virginia, you CAN grow blueberry bushes, even if your soil is less than ideal for them, and even if you’ve tried and failed in years past. In just a few years, you can enjoy blueberries in your pancakes and blueberries in your muffins, blueberries in your ice cream and in your fruit smoothies and in your granola and then–oh boy–you’re gonna thank me . . .

Pin it for Later!

close-up of blueberry bush leaves and berriesAnd a few links you might like:

Now you’ve done it!

You’ve learned how to grow blueberry bushes, even though you don’t have the right soil for it. Good luck, and happy growing!

*hugs*

52 thoughts on “How to grow blueberries even when they don’t like your soil

  1. Anita-Clare Field

    What a wonderful read on a Monday lunchtime, It’s an absolute belter. We love blueberries in this house and the sooner we have our garden restyled then the sooner we can get going πŸ™‚ Please send your husband across the pond. I will return him with goodies from the UK ? Deal?

  2. Tamala

    I can’t wait until I have my own garden… I mean a huge one like you seem to have. Like you, I have lots and lots of wants for this lifetime, with one of them being a BIG garden… with fruits, herbs, and veggies. So three years huh? Does it normally take that long to grow “stuff” or are blueberries an anomaly? Didn’t realize it took a such a long time… I thought maybe six months? But again, I’m a city girl and know absolutely nothing about farming/gardening aside for tending to my mom’s rose garden which are seasonal. Anyhoot, congrats on such an accomplishment. Yummy! Are you going to sell them too?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Tamala,
      Perennial (the kinds of plants that come back year after year) plants take two or three years to produce, but herbs and flowers and “annual” plants (the kinds that produce the first year and then die) like lettuces, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc., produce the first year. Take it one step at a time and you’ll have lots to eat and lots to share, too! πŸ™‚ About selling: if (and when!) we have more berries than we can use, we’ll sell them at market. πŸ™‚

  3. Stacy

    Love blueberries! My mom’s husband has 10 bushes on his property and my, how they produce. In an especially good year they pick enough berries to completely fill a large freezer, allow me to pick to my heart’s content, and still give to friends and neighbors before finally uncovering them and letting the birds have at them.

    Mom says it’s going to be a bumper crop this year, but her husband isn’t feeling like covering them so it will be a race to beat the birds. I’m going on two trips this month so I doubt I will get to pick many.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Stacy,
      That’s a LOT of blueberries! I’ve got to ask, where do you all live? Not in the Midwest, I’m assuming!

  4. Charlotte Henley Babb

    I love blueberries. I might even give this a try, though there is little sunshine in my yard due to oak trees, and the red clay soil might be a problem. But, I don’t blame you a bit for sneaking a blueberries. I have a quart in my frig from the farmer’s market on Saturday.

  5. Cher

    Hi Amy, what a great post, I so love your humour! I is a good job we did not grow up together – we would have caused innocent havoc! LOL. I have a water filter system that gives me both Alkaline and acid water, so i use the acid water for my blueberries and feed with a little liquid fertilizer from my tiger worms, they seem to love it – and I love them πŸ™‚

    Cher x

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh, Cher, that sounds brilliant! Is your soil naturally acidic, then, there in your area of France?

  6. Danny

    “..thirty blueberry plants is quite enough” no way, you can never have enough blueberries. I just started building a vegetable garden with my daughters on the weekend, we were thinking of growing berries. Thanks for showing how.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Sure, Danny! 30 blueberry plants this year wasn’t enough, but if they actually grow to be as tall as me (as I hope!) then that should be enough blueberries to satisfy even ME. πŸ™‚

  7. Shawn

    I am from the beloved state of Michigan and blueberries grow beautifully there. They are plump morsals of goodness. I love blueberries in pancakes, muffins, and off the bush just like you. There really isn’t any way that I don’t like blueberries.

  8. Francene Stanley

    Just shows what you can do if you put your mind to it. I wish you every continued success. I don’t want to dampen your spirits, but I didn’t have much luck after the forth year. Of course, you’re much more dillegent than I am. The one bush I had withered and died last year. Lily of the valley bloomed well in its place this spring. Sigh. Blueberries are SO delicious.

  9. Sabrina Sumsion

    I love this! We’re putting an offer on a house today that has almost 2 acres. There’s a pine tree line on the north side and I plan to utilize that soil to try to get some blueberries to do well. Thanks for the tips. I’ll be sure to use them!

  10. nicole

    congratulations !!! I am just at the very beginning of my little farm and a blueberry patch is one of my big dreams too !!! πŸ™‚

  11. rose/cookinmom

    Hello Amy, just wanted to send this your way…something that was just put out on Paul (BTE) prunning blueberry bushes. He shows how he opens up the bush however parts are not that great. I just got a pile of pine woodchips dumped, which blueberries absolutely love! Anyways, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=UPAVaF738jI
    Blessings

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh, Rose, I just found this comment. Thanks for sending it my way. I’m going to watch the video to see what Paul does with blueberries. I’m going to be mulching and fertilizing mine TODAY. Thanks again for sending this my way. You are MY LINK to Paul! πŸ™‚ I appreciate you!

    2. dramamamafive Post author

      Rose, could you do me a BIG favor and try to re-send that link? It didn’t come up when I clicked on it. (“Link not found”) Alas.

      1. rose/cookinmom

        You might be better off and go to youtube and type in L2Survive and look at all his videos. One of the most recent is “how to prune blueberries”. It’s hard to see how he pruns but he thins it out and anything crossing he gets rid of. He thins the bottom of the bush as well. Here’s one more try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPAVaF738jI
        Enjoy the beautiful colors of spring!

  12. Pingback: Fiber Focus Friday: Breathtaking Blueberries - Fiber Guardian

  13. Melissa

    So we just moved to a rural area of Nebraska, about an hour away from any decent shopping and I wanted to see if I could plant Blueberries out here successfully. Your blog was the first thing that came up when I hit Google on the subject. (congrats!)When I started reading your blog, I got the giggles! So much in common! I had to leave you a comment and say Thank You for the Blueberry tips! I’m excited to try them! And excited to come back and read more of your posts.

    PS I’m glad Nelly survived!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hey Melissa! I’m curious now in WHICH rural area of Nebraska you live? Close at all to my rural area? I’m glad the blueberry post was helpful to you. It is possible to raise blueberries here, but not easy. If you want easy, quick, native berries–grow blackberries or raspberries. They are so much easier to raise than blueberries here!

      1. Melissa

        We’re on the edge of Rising City (about 25 minutes from Columbus). I keep snooping your pictures to see if I can tell what area you’re in, if anything looks familiar (no luck hahaha)

        When we moved here there’s actually a gorgeous blackberry “bush…?” It’s grown intertwined with a tree and hangs over the side yard like a willow tree…and tastes great! I just LOVE blueberries, and they’re one of the few lower carb fruits I can eat on a low carb diet. I think I’m going to wait until I have a season or two of easier to grow food for this area then give it a go, but I’m determined!! πŸ™‚

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          Well, Melissa, you definitely need determination to raise blueberries in Nebraska, but it can be done! Raspberries and blackberries are definitely easier to grow here, though!

  14. Bonny

    Very helpful post! Thanks for sharing your experience and the amazing evidence of successful blueberries! I have a couple bushes that are nearly 2 years old and they are alive and seem happy, but haven’t gotten any taller, and of course, the crows ate the berries. Grrr! I’m going to add more plants, and be more diligent about fertilizing and watering. I’m in CA and the drought has made keeping up with watering really difficult. You’ve inspired me to give them more attention πŸ™‚

  15. Beth Hamburger

    Your post encouraged me to try blueberries. I live in SD. I planted three blueberries bushes last summer. What do I do this spring for them?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Beth,
      Follow the directions in my post. They can’t be overwatered, basically. And they need the proper fertilizer at least once a month during the growing season. Keep the weeds away, and Good luck! πŸ™‚

  16. Dan

    Thank you so much for this post. We live just outside London, England, and have thick clay alkaline soil. I have four existing Blueberry plants in containers. Each is two years old and two of them are not doing well – turned brown and lost all of there leaves in summer despite growing in ericaceous compost and being fertilised with an azalea, rhododendrons fertiliser. I’ve bought the “ingredients” that you listed, when would be the best time to transplant into the ground? I would assume the two that are doing well should be left to early winter when they’re dormant but can I do the two that are pretty much bare bark now!? Thanks again

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Dan, good question! If you planted them on a cool, rainy day, now would be a fine time to do it. They would have more time to develop a healthy, strong root system before winter sets in. That’s what i would do, in any case. Then water them often, until it freezes. GOOD LUCK!

  17. Megan

    Just wanted to report back. I planted 2 blueberries in the spring using your directions. You could tell they had been doing well because there were many blossoms and berries beginning to grow, but leaves were starting to yellow and the plant was spindly.

    We planted and fertilized and now about 2 months later the leaves are green and we are harvesting the berries. The plant looks full and happy.

    I can’t believe it! I’m successfully growing blueberries!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Good for you! We harvested a couple gallons of blueberries this year, but my plants don’t look very thrifty. Kinda discouraging! But maybe the high high heat that we’ve had this summer has something to do with it. Thanks for reporting back, Megan!

  18. Debbie

    I’m curious as to how your blueberries are doing this many years later.
    Do you have an update? Anything you have learned along the way?
    Also, what variety did you plant?
    Love how you write, really draws my interest.
    Thank-you!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Debbie, I’ll answer your questions in reverse order:
      1. What variety did you plant? Gosh, I wish I remembered. I actually planted several varieties and some have done better than others.
      2. Anything I’ve learned along the way. If I were to start over, I would start with just a few plants–like, say, 5 instead of 35. When I have gotten really good at caring for them, I’d increase the number.
      3. More observations: I have lost probably half of the original 30 plants that I planted, mostly because I am always busy with other projects. The plants that died probably didn’t have enough water at some time, or had too much weed pressure around them. The plants that are left are doing well, and honestly I have an easier time caring for this number of plants. None has ever gotten much bigger than about 3′ high and maybe that far across. I’ll keep raising blueberries but I’ll probably keep the number to about 15 bushes, since they are such labor-intensive fruits to raise. Thank you for your sweet comments! And you are welcome. *hugs*

  19. Melissa

    I live in Washington state and blueberries grown everywhere all around me but I can’t seem to grow them. I started using the BTE gardening method which is essentially several layers of wood chips and so far berries are still alive.

  20. Dave

    To keep the soil acidic you can mulch with sawdust, leaves, etcetera. As we had goats, (I didn’t even know what cows milk tasted like until I was around 6) any extra milk was allowed to sour and then would be poured around the blueberries. He was told that he couldn’t grow blueberries, not because of the soil, even though it had to be modified, but because of the climate. He proved them wrong.

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