[NAFEX] Establishing blueberries in neutral soil

Alan Haigh alandhaigh at gmail.com
Sat Jul 18 07:50:40 EDT 2009

In an article published in the summer edition of Pomona, Jim Fruth used a
statement I made on this site and and posed it as a question to him, which
it was not.  I just thought I'd set the record straight because I disagree
with the fundamental tenet of his article and to the way he evaluated the
observation that blueberries often thrive in near neutral soil.

He suggested that blueberries could only do well in neutral soils if the
calcium was somehow "deactivated".  He seems to be saying the the entire
rhizophere has to provide the blueberries equally the iron they need that is
often tied up by calcium.  In other words that iron availability has to be
homogeneous throughout the soil.

My theory, which has already been tested successfully in surface
applications of sulfur to correct iron deficiency in pin oaks in alkaline
soils by Carl Whitcomb, is that only a fraction of the soil profile has to
have available iron to serve the needs of  acid loving plants.

In the case of blueberries that I have seen doing quite well in soils with a
pH well into the 6's, I believe that the fact that these plants are well
mulched may be the key to their vitality.  As the mulch decomposes acids are
released that free up adequate iron for the blueberries to get all the iron
they need.  This is the simplest explanation, so until someone researches a
contradicting explanation, it I'll run with it.

As far as the substance of Jim Fruth's article that I disagree with, at
least in the conditions where I establish blueberries, it is his assertion
that one should wait a year to plant blueberries in alkaline soils.  I would
never waste a years growth to acidify a soil (the suckers take long enough
to establish as is), and if the blueberries appeared deficient in iron in
spite of amendments made at planting I would spray them with some kind of
soluble iron.  This has never been necessary at sites that I amend with
ample peat moss and granular sulfur, but it is what Cornell recommends when
blueberries are incapable of acquiring iron from recently planted
blueberries in amended soil.  They do not recommend waiting a year to plant.
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