Why choose the best mulch for blueberries?
In this post, we are going to talk about the benefits of mulching, what to look for in mulch and a few of our favorite options.
What is the best mulch for blueberries?
Here is a quick preview of what we are going to look at…
- Aged woodchips
- Pine bark
Why Mulching Your Blueberries Is Important….
Before we can talk about mulch, let’s talk about why it is important and what to look for in the best mulch for blueberries…
About one hundred years ago, the only way you could enjoy fresh blueberries was if you found a bush growing in the wild somewhere.
Early in the 1900’s scientists started to unlock the secret of growing blueberries domestically and their popularity in home gardens exploded. Because of these scientific advances, blueberries are now grown in many home gardens on bushes that are resistant to many pests and diseases and can produce fruit for up to 20 years.
Their beautiful shrubs also make a beautiful addition to the yard with pretty white flowers in the spring and scarlet foliage in the fall.
Blueberries grow best in well-drained, acidic soil that is free of weeds. For optimum growth, they need the soil pH to be between 4 and 5 – a range that isn’t common in many gardens.
This means soil acidification is quite often necessary to get the pH to the desired range, and maintenance needs to be done to keep the soil pH from slowly increasing. A shallow root system on blueberry plants also means they need a soil that is well-drained to keep roots from sitting in too much water and getting waterlogged.
With this in mind, mulching around blueberry bushes will help retain soil moisture without keeping the soil’s root zone too wet.
Mulching will also help to reduce weed growth, minimize soil compaction, and can help improve the soil structure as natural materials decompose and add organic matter to the soil.
In addition to all of those benefits, certain types of mulch can help keep the soil acidic.
Some of the best choices for mulch come right from the garden and lawn itself but different plants prefer different materials.
The most common options for mulch are bark chips, pea gravel, straw, grass clipping, sawdust, leaves, and peat moss.
Each mulch type has its advantages and disadvantages, and some work better for certain plants than other types. If you have a large garden area, the cost of buying mulch will add up, so it’s more beneficial if you can utilize material you already have available from the yard/garden.
No matter if you purchase mulch or use something on hand you will see definitive benefits in the plants grown and their harvestable outputs when you cover the exposed soil.
The most effective mulch for blueberries is high in lignin and is acidic in nature. Lignin is an important structural component in vascular tissue and provides rigidity in plant materials especially in wood and bark.
It also slows the decomposition process of plant materials so they do not rot easily. This slow decomposition rate will keep the soil pH from increasing as nitrogen is broken down and released into the soil.
Aged wood chips are a fantastic material to use for mulch around blueberry plants.
The wood chips will break down slowly because of their high lignin content. This slow decomposition keeps the soil pH acidic and prevents it from rising too quickly because of nitrogen released into the soil, while simultaneously providing the benefits of using a mulch to the blueberry bushes.
The best source of wood chips is from trees local to the homeowner – either ones from your own yard/garden, or from local tree trimming or landscaping companies.
Apply in a layer 2 – 3” deep around the plants, keeping wood chips a few inches away from the base of the blueberry bushes to avoid fungal diseases.
Sawdust is one of the best materials to use as mulch around blueberry bushes. The best sawdust to use is pine sawdust due to its slightly acidic nature; this will help maintain the acidic soil pH preferred by the plants.
Use caution if purchasing fresh sawdust as it can pull nitrogen out of the soil as it breaks down, making it unavailable to plants for their use.
If you choose to use fresh sawdust make sure to keep it spread across the soil surface instead of incorporating it into the soil profile.
What do I do if I don’t have access to sawdust? You may be surprised to learn that you actually can purchase sawdust online such as the brand found here.
Pine bark is made from the shredded bark of pine trees and is more acidic than most other mulch options, making it a great option for using with blueberries.
Pine bark is excellent at reducing weed germination and is an aesthetically pleasing option for homeowners. Choose bark that is larger in size and not artificially colored as some mulch can be.
Spread a layer 3 – 4” thick around blueberry bushes to see optimum results. It is very lightweight in nature and does not do as well in areas that receive high winds as it has a tendency to blow away.
Straw makes good mulch because it’s clean, lightweight and breaks down easily to add organic matter to the soil.
The best types of straw to use for mulching around blueberry bushes are oat, wheat and/or soybean straw; avoid hay straw since it contains weed seeds. A 2 – 4” layer of straw around blueberry bushes will help to inhibit weed growth and regulate soil temperature.
Because it breaks down quickly, periodically check the bottom of the mulch layer for decomposition and apply more as necessary.
Over the last one hundred years, blueberry plants have been expertly domesticated by scientists to grow well in home gardens.
Blueberries can now be grown in many landscapes on bushes capable of producing fruit for up to twenty years that are disease and insect resistant.
For optimum growth blueberry bushes need acidic, well-drained soil and benefit from mulching around the base of the bushes. Mulch will help to prevent weeds, regulate the soil temperature, and maintain an appropriate level of soil moisture.
Blueberries do best with options that are slightly acidic in nature and high in lignin content such as wood-based materials.
These products will help to keep the soil pH from increasing, affecting the growth of the blueberries while providing the common benefits of mulch.