This 2 part series of articles will cover our experience with the selection, cultivation and cloning of blueberry plants. I would like to mention that I am no expert in the growth and cultivation of plants. This is the first time I have ever attempted blueberry cloning. At the time of my writing this article, I have taken cutting on two separate occasions and am documenting the process in an effort to share the experience with others and to learn from it and improve next year. When I first began reading about cloning blueberries, the multiple articles I read mentioned taking cuttings in the spring. I live in Northeast Ohio – USDA Zone 6a. Blueberries are hardy here in this part of the country and part of the reason we are growing them. You can find more information about your hardiness zone and frost dates here:
USDA hardiness zones make a good baseline for learning about plants, but each property has its own set of variables which can greatly impact the hardiness of plants either way. We can also create microclimates in order to facilitate the growth and development of plants that “aren’t hardy.” We’ll discuss this more in future articles that are focused on permaculture design systems. In addition to hardiness zones, I feel it’s important to learn about the first frost in your area. According to research I did, I’ve found that the average last frost in the area I live is about mid-May. Paying attention to the first frost dates can help you get a better understanding of “spring” and how this fits into the time frame for taking cuttings in your area. More information about frost dates can be found here:
USDA hardiness zones and frost dates are a great start to gaining a better understanding of your particular area. With all that said, let’s get back to blueberries. If you’re buying blueberries, you will find them available in one gallon, three gallon, five gallon or even seven gallon containers. Plants are also sold bare root or as balled and burlapped shrubs. In 2010, we planted approximately 100 blueberry plants. We bought them as “two-year” plants in a one gallon container. We planted three different varieties: ‘Eliot,’ ‘Patriot,’ and ‘Blue Crop.’ All three links to the varieties we use are from Stark Bro’s Nursery. They have been a great source for quality information and quality plant material for many years. I would recommend using their site as a resource for reliable information. We decided on these three varieties due to the time of the expected harvest. ‘Patriot’ ripened in the early season, ‘Eliot’ was a mid-season blueberry, and ‘Blue Crop’ ripened mid/late season. The idea was for an extended harvest season. The plants have been improving proportionally to the soil improvement and, accordingly, we are producing more abundant harvests each subsequent year. Over the past few years, some plants have performed much better than the others. Certain plants of each variety have performed better than others. Moreover, certain varieties seem to be performing better than others. For example: throughout our rows, it appears as though the variety ‘Blue Crop’ is performing better than the ‘Eliot’ and ‘Patriot’ varieties. In the photo below, you can see the past four seasons of growth on this plant. This is an example of a healthy ‘Blue Crop’ with other weaker performing varieties in the background, towards the top right of the photo. The baseball cap is there for scale. This plant has been in the ground four growing seasons. Purchased as a “two-year” plant in a one gallon container – this plant is approximately 6 years old. What was planted as a 1-gallon plant could likely be sold in the retail market for approximately a 30-36” Blue Crop Blueberry for $40-50, depending on where you live in the country. That seems like a fair return on investment. In the past, this area was traditionally farmed in grain. Years of rotational plantings of corn, beans and wheat has taken their toll on the soil. Obviously, under better growing conditions (healthy soil) – the plants would be healthier and have grown even better, but growing in less than ideal conditions demonstrates the resiliency of the blueberry plant as a species. When we first planted them, we dug large holes and backfilled the compacted clay soil with peat moss. Over the past few years, the moisture of the plants was closely monitored and they were fertilized with Holly-Tone each spring. Holly-Tone is a product made by the Espoma Company. I have used Espoma products in the landscape for 15 years. Many of their products are organic and compliment organic methods of gardening quite well. 3 years ago, we began the process of pruning the plants and thinning the canes each spring. This idea behind this was to maximize fruit production on the selected canes. This year is no different, but since I have moved back home to directly help my parents manage the fledgling farm, I decided that, in addition to the annual thinning and pruning, I would make an attempt at taking cuttings and propagating plants. The original cuttings were taken on March 23, almost one month before writing this article. The second round of cuttings was taken two weeks after, on April 6. Photo documentation and a detailed write up of the actual cloning process will take place in the next article. Stay tuned.