Payne County is a challenging place to grow blueberries. Our hot summers and heavy clay soils are significant obstacles to overcome. However, it can be done. If you follow these guidelines, many years of successful blueberry harvests are within reach.
Soil preparation, careful cultivar selection, and proper siting are the three big keys. Do not attempt this unless you are diligent with all three. The soil must be light enough to allow good air and water movement through it and high in organic matter. Raised beds can be very helpful here. If you are trying to modify heavy red Payne County clay, forget it. Instead, invest in some quality topsoil and amend with organic matter to create a raised bed or berm on top of the native soil.
The soil pH needs to be between 4.5-5.5. While not unheard of for Payne County soils, it is rare to find a pH level this low. It’s also well below the level that most plants prefer. The only way to know for sure what your soil pH is is to have it tested. Our office can do that for you with a routine test. (Please specify blueberries as a crop when you bring it to the Extension office). Soil pH can be lowered using sulfur and other soil-acidifying amendments, but it can take several months for the chemical change to take place. For this reason, the most successful growers dedicate a year or more to soil preparation before the blueberries are planted.
Site selection includes selecting a location that provides some afternoon shade and protection from our drying south-southwest winds. A bit of morning shade is ok as long as the plants receive full sun during mid day.
OSU Fact Sheet #HLA-6248 Blueberry Production for the Home Garden (PDF/Mobile) provides much more information on the topics we touched above. It includes a lengthy list of cultivars suitable for Oklahoma. In addition to the list provided, local growers report success with the following cultivars: Pink Lemonade, Peach Sorbet, Blue Ray, Blue Crop, Brazzleberry, and Blue Glaze.
Blueberries tend to be disease free with the biggest pest being birds. Be prepared to cover them with bird netting as they get close to ripening. Otherwise, you’ll know when they are ripe because you’ll go out to check on them and find the birds have picked the bushes clean.
Good luck in your endeavors. If you are already successfully growing blueberries in our area and are doing something differently than what we have suggested, we would like to hear from you. Because this crop is so challenging for area gardeners, we are always interested in hearing how people are overcoming the obstacles our climate provides.
A quick word about raspberries. While they do not require the extreme soil modification of blueberries, with regards to pH, they do need a modified soil environment along with some afternoon shade. Raspberries also tend to have disease issues that the other two fruits typically do not have, making growing them successfully even more difficult than blueberries.
For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.
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