Want to grow blueberries in your home garden but think it will be too much work?
Many gardeners shy away from planting blueberries since the soil in which they grow needs to be acidic.
Making your garden soil more acidic is not as hard as you think.
I wrote this guide to provide information on why blueberries like acidic soil. I also offer tips on how to lower soil pH, and how you can use sulfur to lower pH.
Once you learn how straightforward it is to amend your soil to grow lush blueberry bushes, you’ll wish you had done it sooner!
Do Blueberries Like Acidic Soil?
Yes, blueberries like acidic soil, and unfortunately, most garden soil has a pH too high to grow them successfully. Blueberry bushes grow best when the soil pH is between 4.5 and 5.
Blueberries have a primary root system without the fine root hairs found on most other plants.
Acidic soil is full of acid-loving bacteria that break down minerals to release iron, phosphates, and magnesium. Blueberries plants flourish on these elements as they are quickly taken in through their roots.
Many people plant blueberry bushes, not knowing the acidity of their soil, and the plant looks fine at first. But over time, the leaves on the bush will appear sparse, and the fruits will be small and less plentiful.
This poor performance is a great visual indicator that the soil is not acidic enough.
The good news is that amending the soil to the ideal pH level, even after you have planted blueberries, is not difficult.
How To Lower Soil Ph For Blueberries
The first step to lower pH is to know the status of your current soil. The easiest way to do this is to use a soil pH tester kit.
Once you determine how much you need to amend the soil, you can lower the pH by using any of these methods:
- Mulch with pine needles
- Work sphagnum peat into the topsoil
- Add amendment mix made for Gardenias or Azaleas
- Add coffee grounds
- Use an acidic fertilizer
- Add sulfur
When you need a quick fix for high soil pH, you can use two tablespoons of vinegar per one gallon of water and pour it around the base of your plants once a week.
This method is meant to be a temporary measure until you can properly lower the soil pH by other means since it does not last long.
How Much Sulfur To Add To Soil For Blueberries
Adding sulfur is a good way to lower soil pH. Before new blueberry plantings, you can till sulfur granules into the soil down six to eight inches. Blueberry roots grow quite shallow, so this depth is sufficient.
Expect to lower pH one point for each pound of elemental sulfur per twenty-five square feet of soil.
Experts recommend applying sulfur additives between three to twelve months before new plantings to give it plenty of time to disburse into the soil.
If possible, add sulfur in the fall and retest the land in the spring before planting.
This study from Michigan State University explains more about using sulfur to reduce soil pH.
For existing plants, you can still use sulfur to increase soil acidity, but expect this process to take a year or more to drop the pH dramatically. The granules need to break down on the surface and work its way to the blueberry’s root system after rain or watering.
Another concern is the type of soil you have. You’ll need less sulfur per square foot to lower pH on sandy soil and much more for clay or loamy soil.
Maintaining Acidic Soil Levels for Blueberries
Once you achieve the right pH level to grow abundant crops of blueberries, you need to monitor your soil.
Test every month or two to maintain the best growing conditions. Most major soil amendments to increase acidity last only two to three years before the soil begins to return to its normal state.
It’s much easier to maintain pH levels once you see a slight drop in acidity.
A great natural solution is to use coffee grounds, peat moss, or pine needles as a mulch. These slowly and continually release small amounts of acid into the soil. You can also utilize an acidic organic fertilizer every few months or as the manufacturer recommends.
The critical thing to remember is to avoid digging more than an inch into the soil around the base of your established blueberry bushes. This precaution will prevent damage to the delicate roots that spread close to the surface.
Blueberry plants do require special soil monitoring, but the pay-off is baskets of fat, sweet, delicious berries come harvest season.
Now that you know how to make soil acidic for blueberries, you can establish a patch that will increase in abundance year after year.
The best part about growing blueberries is that once the soil pH level is right, I have found that they need little care to grow well.