November 28, 2015

1 - Blueberries and other plants that require acid soils are very difficult to grow in New Mexico.

Yard and Garden November 28, 2015

Q.

My wife and I have a strong desire to add some blueberries to our current raspberry and pending blackberry patch. Folks at some nurseries told me that the blueberries need a much more acidic soil in order to be successful.

Can you give any suggestions for varieties to target and / or means to supplement soils to achieve a reasonable outcome? Or should I just punt on this idea?

Wayne S.

Las Cruces

A.

We usually recommend the "punt strategy" you mentioned. It is very difficult to grow blueberries, azaleas, gardenias, and other acid soil requiring plants in most of New Mexico.

Dr. Ron Walser did a blueberry trial at the Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center before he retired. He planted several varieties in soil heavily amended with organic matter (compost). He irrigated with drip irrigation and used an injection system to inject sulfuric acid into the water stream. Sulfuric acid is too dangerous for most gardeners, so we do not recommend that to home gardeners. However, acetic acid (vinegar) can be used by homeowners. He recommended adding acetic acid to modify the pH of irrigation water to a pH of 3.0 to 4.0. With all the effort he put into his treatments, the plants grew poorly, but they did produce a few blueberries. I do not think he ever published a list of recommended varieties because none of them did very well because of their need for acid soils.

There are dwarf blueberry varieties that can be grown in containers (large pots - 5 gallon or more in size). The soil in the containers can be made of mostly compost with sulfur added to acidify the soil. Irrigation with pH adjusted water can be used to help maintain the acidity (vinegar added to the water and checked with pH test strips). This will probably be a little more successful than growing them in the open garden.

This is a lot of trouble for a few blueberries - it is much cheaper to buy them at the grocery store. However, some gardeners just love the challenge.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

Links:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

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