Soil Prep For Blueberry Plant: Lower Soil pH For Blueberries
By: Heather Rhoades
Many times, if a blueberry bush is not doing well in a home garden, it is the soil that is to blame. If the blueberry soil pH is too high, the blueberry bush will not grow well. Taking steps to test your blueberry pH soil level and, if it is too high, lowering blueberry soil pH will make a huge difference in how well you blueberries grow. Keep reading to learn about proper soil prep for blueberry plants and how you can lower soil pH for blueberries.
Testing Blueberry pH Soil Level
Regardless of whether you are planting a new blueberry bush or trying to improve the performance of established blueberry bushes, it is essential that you have your soil tested. In all but a few places, your blueberry soil pH will be too high and testing the soil can tell how high the pH is. Soil testing will allow you to see how much work your soil will need in order to grow blueberries well.
The proper blueberry pH soil level is between 4 and 5. If your blueberry bush’s soil is higher than this, then you need to take steps to lower the soil pH for blueberries.
New Blueberry Plantings – Soil Prep for Blueberry Plant
If your blueberry soil pH is too high, you need to lower it. The best way to do this is too add granular sulfur to the soil. About 1 pound (0.50 kg.) of sulfur per fifty feet (15 m.) will lower the pH one point. This will need to be worked or tilled into the soil. If you can, add this to the soil three months before you plan on planting. This will allow the sulfur to better mix with the soil.
You can also use acid peat or used coffee grounds as an organic method of acidifying the soil. Work in 4-6 inches (10-15 cm.) of peat or coffee ground into the soil.
Existing Blueberries – Lowering Blueberry Soil pH
No matter how well you do soil prep for a blueberry plant, if you do not live in an area where the soil is naturally acidic, you will find that the soil pH will return to its normal level in a few years if nothing is done to maintain the lower pH around the blueberries.
There are several methods you can use to either lower soil pH for blueberries that are established or to maintain the already adjusted blueberry pH soil level.
- One method is to add sphagnum peat around the base of the blueberry plant about once a year. Used coffee grounds can also be used.
- Another method for lowering blueberry soil pH is to make sure you are fertilizing your blueberries with an acidic fertilizer. Fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, or sulfur-coated urea are high acid fertilizers.
- Adding sulfur to the top of the soil is another way to lower soil pH for blueberries. It may take some time for this to work on established plantings because you will not be able to work it far into the soil without causing damage to the blueberry bush’s roots. But it will eventually work its way down to the roots.
- A quick fix for when the blueberry soil pH is too high is to use diluted vinegar. Use 2 tablespoons (30 mL.) of vinegar per gallon of water and water the blueberry with this once a week or so. While this is a quick fix, it is not a long lasting one and should not be relied on as a long term way for lowering blueberry soil pH.
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Read more about Blueberries
Soil pH for Blueberry Plantings
Blueberries require a lower pH than many other fruit and vegetable crops. Before planting blueberries, test the soil to determine the pH level, as well as amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and organic matter present. More information can be found in the Soil Testing secion of this article, Site Selection for Blueberry Production.
Blueberries require a soil pH of 4.0 to 5.3 for best growth. The primary material recommended for lowering soil pH is finely ground wettable sulfur. Because sulfur reacts slowly and must be converted by soil bacteria, the change in soil pH is brought about slowly therefore, sulfur should be added to the soil and mixed thoroughly several months to a year prior to planting.
If the soil pH is in the range of 5.4 to 6.0, sulfur can be applied six months before planting to lower the pH. Sulfur also can be applied after planting to the soil surface but not mixed with the soil. Rates of up to 7/10 pound per 100 square feet can be used yearly, if needed. If the initial soil pH is above 6.0, growing blueberries will be difficult unless massive amounts of peat moss or milled pine bark are mixed with the soil. Use 1 pound (2.5 cups) per 100 square feet on sandy soils to lower pH by 1 unit (for instance, from 6.0 to 5.0). Apply 2 pounds per 100 square feet for the same amount of pH lowering on heavier soils containing silt, clay or more than 2 percent organic matter. Try to achieve a pH of around 4.8 too much reduction can be detrimental to bush growth.
Gu, Mengmeng and Keith Crouse. Soil pH and Fertilizers. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
- 1 Origin and history of cultivation
- 2 Description
- 3 Species
- 4 Identification
- 5 Uses
- 5.1 Nutrients
- 5.2 Phytochemicals and research
- 6 Cultivation
- 6.1 Growing regions
- 6.1.1 United States
- 6.1.2 Canada
- 6.1.3 Europe
- 6.1.4 Southern Hemisphere
- 6.1 Growing regions
- 7 Production
- 8 Regulations
- 8.1 Canada
- 9 Pesticides
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
The genus Vaccinium has a mostly circumpolar distribution, with species mainly present in North America, Europe, and Asia.  Many commercially sold species with English common names including "blueberry" are from North America, particularly Atlantic Canada and Northeastern United States for wild (lowbush) blueberries, and several US states and British Columbia for cultivated (highbush) blueberries.   First Nations peoples of Canada consumed wild blueberries for centuries before North America was colonized by Europeans.  Highbush blueberries were first cultivated in New Jersey around the beginning of the 20th century. 
North American native species of blueberries are grown commercially in the Southern Hemisphere in Australia, New Zealand and South American nations.  The Colombian or Andean blueberry, Vaccinium meridionale, is wild-harvested and commonly available locally. Several other wild shrubs of the genus Vaccinium also produce commonly eaten blue berries, such as the predominantly European Vaccinium myrtillus and other bilberries, which in many languages have a name that translates to "blueberry" in English.
Five species of blueberries grow wild in Canada, including Vaccinium myrtilloides, Vaccinium angustifolium, and Vaccinium corymbosum which grow on forest floors or near swamps.  Wild (lowbush) blueberries are not planted by farmers, but rather are managed on berry fields called "barrens". 
Wild blueberries reproduce by cross pollination, with each seed producing a plant with a different genetic composition, causing within the same species differences in growth, productivity, color, leaf characteristics, disease resistance, flavor, and other fruit characteristics.  The mother plant develops underground stems called rhizomes, allowing the plant to form a network of rhizomes creating a large patch (called a clone) which is genetically distinct.  Floral and leaf buds develop intermittently along the stems of the plant, with each floral bud giving rise to 5-6 flowers and the eventual fruit.  Wild blueberries prefer an acidic soil between 4.2 to 5.2 pH and only moderate amounts of moisture.  They have a hardy cold tolerance in their Canadian range.  Fruit productivity of lowbush blueberries varies by the degree of pollination, genetics of the clone, soil fertility, water availability, insect infestation, plant diseases, and local growing conditions.  Wild (lowbush) blueberries have an average mature weight of 0.3 grams ( 1 ⁄128 oz). 
Highbush (cultivated) blueberries prefer sandy or loam soils, having shallow root systems that benefit from mulch and fertilizer.  The leaves of highbush blueberries can be either deciduous or evergreen, ovate to lanceolate, and 1–8 cm ( 1 ⁄2 – 3 1 ⁄4 in) long and 0.5–3.5 cm ( 1 ⁄4 – 1 3 ⁄8 in) broad. The flowers are bell-shaped, white, pale pink or red, sometimes tinged greenish.
The fruit is a berry 5–16 mm ( 3 ⁄16 – 5 ⁄8 in) in diameter with a flared crown at the end they are pale greenish at first, then reddish-purple, and finally uniformly blue when ripe.  They are covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax, colloquially known as the "bloom".  They generally have a sweet taste when mature, with variable acidity.   Blueberry bushes typically bear fruit in the middle of the growing season: fruiting times are affected by local conditions such as climate, altitude and latitude, so the time of harvest in the northern hemisphere can vary from May to August.  
Note: habitat and range summaries are from the Flora of New Brunswick, published in 1986 by Harold R. Hinds, and Plants of the Pacific Northwest coast, published in 1994 by Pojar and MacKinnon.
- Vaccinium angustifolium (lowbush blueberry):  acidic barrens, bogs and clearings, Manitoba to Labrador, south to Nova Scotia and in the US, to Iowa and Virginia
- Vaccinium boreale (northern blueberry): peaty barrens, Quebec and Labrador (rare in New Brunswick), south to New York and Massachusetts
- Vaccinium caesariense (New Jersey blueberry)
- Vaccinium corymbosum (northern highbush blueberry) 
- Vaccinium darrowii (evergreen blueberry)
- Vaccinium elliottii (Elliott blueberry)
- Vaccinium formosum (southern blueberry)
- Vaccinium fuscatum (black highbush blueberry syn. V. atrococcum)
- Vaccinium hirsutum (hairy-fruited blueberry)
- Vaccinium myrsinites (shiny blueberry)
- Vaccinium myrtilloides (sour top, velvet leaf, or Canadian blueberry)
- Vaccinium pallidum (dryland blueberry)
- Vaccinium simulatum (upland highbush blueberry)
- Vaccinium tenellum (southern blueberry)
- Vaccinium virgatum (rabbiteye blueberry syn. V. ashei) 
Some other blue-fruited species of Vaccinium:
- Vaccinium koreanum
- Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry or European blueberry)
- Vaccinium uliginosum (bog bilberry/blueberry, northern bilberry or western blueberry)
- Work large amounts — as much as you have available — of shredded leaves or pine needles into the soil at least six months before planting blueberries. Leaves — especially oak leaves — and pine needles acidify the soil, so adding them now may lower how much sulfur you will need to add at planting time.
- Conduct a soil test about six weeks before planting your blueberry bushes.
- Calculate how many points you need to lower the pH level, based on your soil test results. If your soil’s pH is 8.0, for example, you need to lower it by at least 2.5 points.
- Lay the amount of sulfur you need on the surface of the soil, based on package instructions. The amount depends on both square footage and how alkaline the soil currently is. A 25-foot patch might require between 1 to 2 pounds of sulfur, depending on initial soil test results.
- Work the sulfur into the top 12 to 18 inches of your soil and wait several weeks before planting blueberry bushes.
- Mulch blueberry bushes with a 3-inch layer of pine needles or shredded leaves after planting the mulch will add acidity to blueberry bushes as it decomposes.
- Reapply acidic mulch materials every year, adding at least 1 inch to the soil’s surface, depending on how much of the previous year’s mulch has decomposed.
- Test the soil’s pH level yearly. You will likely need to re-acidify your soil every two to three years.
- Top-dress your blueberry bushes with sulfur every two to three years. Rake mulch aside, set a circle of sulfur around each blueberry bush, or a straight line in front of a row blueberry bushes, and rake mulch back into place. The amount of sulfur depends on soil test results and square footage consult package directions.
Wild blueberry in autumn foliage, Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, in October
Decreasing PH of soil for blueberries
I have some questions regarding acidifying soil. Last spring I planted several blueberry plants in a new bed. I added aluminum sulfate beforehand and at least a couple times during the growing season as my soil is alkaline. The plants did not grow much but they did not look unhealthy, either -- the leaves were green -- there just weren't very many leaves. Well I just checked the soil and the PH varies from 6.5 to about 7 in the bed. I am wondering if I should add a bunch of aluminum sulfate or give up on this bed for blueberries. I have read in a couple places that it is more effective to use a raised bed for plants that need an altered PH from what your soil naturally is. Why is that? What is it about a raised bed that would maintain acidity? Why is that different from a bed in the ground? And if I were to do a raised bed, and wanted to buy soil for it, is there particular soil I should get? Is some bagged soil acidic? Or would I be adding alum. sulfate regardless of what soil I use? Or should I just leave the blueberries where they are and try again to amend that soil?
My soil is naturally acidic but blueberries took some time to get going for me too.
Were they bare rooted? I read they don't like that and take longer to get established. My two bare rooted ones did take ages to grow.
Have you added organic matter and mulch? They are very shallow rooted and really like to stay moist.
dig a big hole 10X the plants roots and put 90% compost into it maybe that would help.
It's not that a raised bed would maintain acidity it's just that unlike soil in the ground it would be easier to change/maintain the ph of soil in an enclosed space. The ph in my woodland garden last tested at about 4.5 so that is blueberry heaven but it doesn't get a lot of sun. I did plant two bushes last spring and like you they are living but not thriving. I think like everything else they are going to take time if nothing else to adapt to the conditions versus the pot they were living in. You may try adding some peat into the soil around them. That would help with the acidity and the drainage if worked into the soil. Good luck and I want a piece of the first blueberry pie!!
I dug a 3 foot by 3 foot hole and filled it with finely ground pine bark, potting soil and lots of peat. I mixed only about 15 percent local soil into the mix.
Frankly, it is easier to buy a 20 gallon pot.
I have been told to dig a very large hole, out past the mature dripline of the blueberry bush. Fill it with 50% compost & 50% peat moss. Use drip irrigation to keep this mixture nice and moist. Remember, these are plants with very special growing conditions.
I just noticed your location Bunnerrunner, Saline, MI. Hmmm, It's note alkaline like Colorado, but I would think your soil would be a little more acidic.
Are blueberries really that much better than raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, etc.?
I am still contemplating whether I want to hassle with all the special pampering blueberries would take to grow in my area.
This message was edited Mar 27, 2011 5:18 PM
Pewjumper--since they need special pampering and prep in YOUR area, maybe not. But around the acid east, they sure are worth sticking in the ground and standing back. ( and beating off the birds)
For my family the lack of seeds, and sweetness, easy care, and no stickers, as compared to raspberries, makes blueberries the preferred.
I agree with sallyg. Our blueberries are doing well in the acidic clay we call "soil" LOL
Pewjumper. do any of those grow naturally, wild, in your area?
Try adding some soil sulfur instead of aluminum sulfate.
Mulch with pine needles to add additional acidity.
Wild blueberries in Colorado? Not a chance. The pH of the soil is much to high throughout the vast majority of the state except for a few small peat areas. The key to acidic soils is largely reliant on the amount of annual rainfall you have.
I have a 2000 sq ft area that I will start work on this year. Rocks, clay & a pH of 8.17. I threw down a 50 lb. bag of soil sulfer about 18 months ago in the hopes it would knock down the free alkalinity before I really start the hard soil prep work.
Soil and fertilizers for azaelas & camelias/acid loving plants is usually a pretty good place to start, but remember that blueberries like a soil that retains moisture but drains well.
I have found that many landscaping mixes are fine ground pine bark mixes. You cant always visually tell how much pine is actually in the mix so I always tear the bag a little bit and smell the mix. If you get a really strong pine smell from the bag, you have hit the jackpot. The pine will usually be in little 1/4 - 1/2 inch bits. They mix into the soil very easily and decompose over a long period of time. Mixed with peat and regular soil, it makes a good mix.
Its tougher to fight the plants preferences. I didn't know of any 'cane' berries take that well, or if they also like a more acid soil. Its such a curse living in the Eastern woodland. not!
With luck you can find very find pine mulch itself at a mulch price.
My local garden center manager advised transplanting my blueberry bushes into containers--I only have two, so it wasn't a big deal. He said that our soil is so alkaline I would never be able to keep the soil acidic enough for blueberries to thrive. So I purchased a couple of large plastic planters. This spring I added 2 cups of sulfur to each. The plants survived the winter without extra protection and are budding out already.
Very interesting Goldenberry. I have a bunch of 1/2 wine barrels that I was thinking of using for blueberries, but I was told that they would freeze solid and the plants would die or worse! LOL
Keep us posted on your potted blueberries. Which varieties are they?
Where do you find soil sulfur or ammonia sulfate in CO. I have looked all over for soil sulfur and ammonia sulfate w/ no luck. Most people at the store look at me like I am crazy. I have even tried the garden centers and they either don't know or have never heard of it. I have been adding coffee grounds and peat moss to the beds that are really bad, but it hasn't helped enough.
I went to our local co-op, (Agricultural supplier) and they special ordered it for me. If you don't have a farm supply in your area, go to Ace or True Value hardware and have them pull out "The Big Book" which has just about anything you can think of. Most stores don't like to use the Big Book because it's a hassle and the clerks are lazy.
If you are trying to change pH in your soil, you really have to create new soil. Trying to grow blueberries in most areas of Colorado is impossible due to our soils high pH and high alkalinity. The buffering capacity of the calcium carbonate alkalinity, (CaCO3) must be eliminated before any change in pH can occur. Even then the calcium carbonate in our water will over time raise the pH. Most of our alkalinity in the Glenwood Springs area is derived from limestone.
This message was edited Apr 5, 2011 6:02 AM
Pewjumper, I would have to dig through my big box of plant labels to tell you what kinds they are. I do have two different ones for cross-pollinating purposes. One is Northern- something. I'll look for the labels tonight. I need to get them all better organized anyway. One of those winter projects I didn't get around to, sigh.
As for the freezing, I see we live in the same zone! The nursery manager did tell me I might have to move the pots to a sheltered area for the winter. My blueberry bushes live just outside the drip line of some massive Colorado spruce trees in my front yard, facing southeast. There are hollies and a fence nearby so they get winter protection from the north winds. I did not move or wrap the planters for the winter and they survived. The beauty of keeping them in pots is that you can move them if necessary.
Onyxwar, look for either Espoma Garden Acidifier, or Hi-Yield Soil Sulfur which comes in a yellow bag.
BTW, Glenwood Springs is a lovely area!
Bueberries are big in Maine so there must be some pretty cold hardy ones. My sister in Florida though, has the big tall rabbiteye kind.
Thanks, I will check w/ the ag stores in the area.
We are indeed in the same zone. But the huge difference is that the Rockies shelter us from the massive swings in temperature. Denver is always very different from Glenwood Springs. Glenwood usually just plods along with slow temperature changes through the seasons. We don't have the crazy changes associated with gulf air & Canadian cold.
This last Sunday I saw one of the worst changes since I moved here 12 years ago. It was 62 F when I got up at 5:00 AM, (Extremely strange!) It was 32 F when I left the community garden meeting after church at 12:30 PM. Bizarre weather for us.
I assume you are growing half high hybrids?
Blueberry Planting & Care
Blueberries do best in an acidic soil with a pH balance of 4.5–5.5. You can either purchase acidic soil or test soil that you already have. If you have a pH balance higher than 5.5, you can incorporate peat moss into the soil which is acidic and can lower the pH balance.
All of the varieties in the Bushel and Berry® collection will thrive in patio pots, raised beds or in the ground for years to come. If you decide to plant your Bushel and Berry® Blueberry in a pot, we recommend choosing a container that is 12–16” in diameter to allow the plant room to grow.
Plant In Container
Choose a container (12–16” in diameter and at least 10” deep is ideal).
Fill ⅔ of the container with regular potting soil.
Use a soil acidifier product as recommended, or use a high acid potting soil. Follow product instructions.
Mix potting soil and soil acidifier together.
Add plant to pot, gently loosening the roots of the plant.
Fill in soil around plant with regular potting soil (if needed).
Place plant in a sunny spot. It will need at least 6 hours of full sun each day.
Water the plant frequently, ensuring it stays moist but not overwatered.
Plant IN GROUND
Pick a sunny place to plant. All berry plants need at least 6 hours of full sun to produce berries.
Dig a hole slightly larger than the container. Work the soil at the bottom of the hole with your shovel so that it’s loose and aerated.
Tip: Blueberries do best in an acidic soil with a pH balance of 4.5–5.5. You can either purchase acidic soil or test soil that you already have. If you have a pH balance higher than 5.5, you can incorporate peat moss into the soil, which is acidic and can lower the pH balance.
Remove the berry plant from its container. Use your hands to gently loosen the roots at the bottom of the plant.
Place your plant in the hole, ensuring that the base of it is level with the soil.
Add soil back to the hole around the plant. Crumble the soil so that it’s nice and aerated. If desired, mulch around the plant.
Bushel and Berry® plants do best when you fertilize them each spring. Blueberry plants like acidic fertilizers such as rhododendron or azalea formulations, and either granular or liquid fertilizers. They also prefer high-nitrogen organic fertilizers such as blood meal and acidic cottonseed meal. Fertilizing should be done in early spring and in late spring by closely following the product label instructions. Avoid fertilizing with any kind of manure as it can damage the plants.
Tip: Coffee grounds are an inexpensive homemade blueberry fertilizer to help acidify soil! Occasionally, scatter your spent coffee grounds on the top of the dirt to wake up your blueberry plants.
The amount of water your blueberry plant needs will depend on your climate but generally, you want to make sure the plant has consistent moisture but isn’t overwatered. This usually means watering two to three times a week for blueberries planted in the landscape or raised beds and daily if it’s in a container.
Tip: If you live in an area where the water contains higher levels of calcium, add some vinegar to the plants’ water twice a week—about 6 ounces per 4 gallons of water.
Tip: Remember, plants and their roots in patio pots dry out faster than plants in-ground, especially on warm summer days. It's important to water potted plants daily. A good way to gauge your watering is to water until you see runoff coming out of the drainage holes.
Pruning your blueberry plants annually will ensure they add to your landscape and provide you with delicious berries. In spring, prune out any dead branches. Young plants will need minimum pruning. As the plant ages, prune out 1/3 of the older canes each year while the plant is dormant, leaving new branches to fruit the following season.
Tip: Pruning off dead wood or non-fruiting wood will allow the plant to put its energy into the good canes for maximizing fruit production.
Bushel and Berry® varieties require little winter maintenance and can usually be left outside during cold months. However, plants in decorative containers and planters are more at risk than plants in the ground. If your plants are in the ground, it’s a good idea to mulch heavily around the base and give them extra water.
If your plants are in decorative containers and you have harsh winter weather, insulating the plant or moving the container to an unheated garage or basement is a good idea. If you store your containers in the garage, remember to protect them from the winter temperatures that can come in as you open and close the door. Keep your containers inside until the threat of the last frost has passed (typically in early spring). While storing the berry plants inside, make sure to keep the soil moist but not soaked.
How do I lower the pH in my gardenia?
To lower soil pH, mix some aluminum sulfate into the soil, which will instantly lower the pH level. For a cheaper option that takes slightly longer, add some sublimed sulfur to the soil.
Also Know, what is the best pH for gardenias? Optimal Gardenia Soil To thrive, gardenias require well-drained, acidic soil with a pH range of 5.0 to 6.0. The soil should also be rich in organic matter and kept moist but not wet. Gardenias grown in alkaline soil will have difficulty obtaining the nutrients the shrub needs to thrive.
In this manner, how do I make my gardenia soil acidic?
You can acidify Valley soil by adding peat moss or gypsum to it during planting, by using fertilizer that is formulated specifically for acid-loving plants and by continual applications of compost. The breakdown of compost, in releasing humic acid, has an acidifying affect on the soil.
How do you lower the pH of blueberries?
Existing Blueberries – Lowering Blueberry Soil pH One method is to add sphagnum peat around the base of the blueberry plant about once a year. Used coffee grounds can also be used. Another method for lowering blueberry soil pH is to make sure you are fertilizing your blueberries with an acidic fertilizer.
Acidify Your Soil for Blueberries
Reposting of article from HomeGuides.SFGate.com. They have additional articles on this topic.
Blueberries are known for their love of acidic soils, preferring a pH level of 4.8 to 5.5. If you’re discouraged from growing blueberries because of chalky or alkaline soil, take heart. Your soil can be altered both before and after planting to create and maintain the low pH level blueberries prefer. Before you purchase soil amendments — sulfur commonly used for acidifying soil — conduct a soil test to determine how much you’ll need to alter your soil.