Update on Blueberry Production Research

By Dr. Gary Gao
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist

Growing blueberries in Ohio has been a challenging proposition for both commercial growers and backyard gardeners.  This is because blueberries require an acidic pH of 4.5, high organic matter of 4-7%, and excellent drainage.  Idea blueberry soils look like a sandy beach with high organic matter content and readily available water.  Only a few selected places, such as northern Indiana, northwest Michigan, Hammonton in New Jersey, northeast North Carolina, and Willemette Valley in Oregon, have ideal conditions for blueberries.  We are still trying very hard to mimic those ideal blueberry grounds with acidifying soil by applying elemental sulfur, increasing soil organic matter content through addition of peat moss or aged sawduct, and by building raised beds.

If you are thinking about growing blueberries commercially, you may want to get a copy of the Midwest Blueberry Production Guide available online: www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/id/id210/id210.pdf  

If you want to purchase a hardy copy of the bulletin, visit: southcenters.osu.edu/news/midwest-blueberry-production-guide for more information.  A limited number of copies are available.

If you want to grow blueberry in a home garden, you may want to check out this fact sheet at OSU Extension’s OhioLine: ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-1422 or check the OSU South Centers blueberry page: southcenters.osu.edu/horticulture/fruits/blueberries.

Grafting Blueberries
We are working on cold hardy and alkaline soil tolerant blueberry rootstocks.  We are seeing some promising selections, but we still need a lot of patience.  Our team members Ricardo Medina, Ryan Slaughter, and Pengfei Wang gathered together in April to work on blueberry grafting.  Our team is certainly looking forward to grafted blueberry trees from our research project, and is very grateful for the financial support of a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Growing Blueberries in Containers – More of a Reality than Fiction
It is so exciting to see the beautiful blooms on blueberry bushes in containers.  After three years of trials and tribulations, we are getting really good at growing blueberries in pots.  The container size is 10 gallons.  Blueberry production is not terribly hard, after all.  If you are thinking about doing this commercially, feel free to visit our trial plots at OSU South Centers in Piketon.  Either Ryan Slaughter or Dr. Gary Gao can give a demonstration or we can compare notes.  
Some of the suggested blueberry cultivars for container production include Blue Gold, Draper, Legacy, Nelson, and Sweetheart.  Each of these flowers should turn into a blueberry, as long as honeybees or bumble bees do their part.

Recording, Editing, and Publishing Videos
Gao and Slaughter, along with video producers Duane Rigsby and Sarah Swanson, have been working on recording videos on fruit production.  Gao says his program has a great team in place to produce this kind of education content, and hopes to produce quite a few videos.

“I jokingly told our folks that one of my career goals is to star in at least one fruit production video that draws one million views,” Gao said. “ A few days ago, my research assistant Ryan Slaughter took my message to heart and recorded one fun and educational videos with Duane.  He told me that the video on total blueberry renovation with a chainsaw drew more than 500 hundred views in one day.”  

Follow this link for the video on the South Centers’ YouTube Page at youtube.com/watch?v=Sxpn29w0TZE 

“It is a lot of fun to watch,” Gao continued. “I shared Ryan’s video on Facebook myself – I wonder if this video will go viral?  

“I will be happy and jealous at the same time.  It is very possible that Ryan’s video will reach the one million mark before mine,” he exclaimed.