Dropping leaves don't always mean disease or pests, especially when it comes to blueberry bushes. These attractive plants are native to northeastern North America and require specific growing conditions. While pests can affect leaf growth, the answer to dropping leaves is often right under your feet. If you are willing to fuss a bit over this native shrub, it rewards you with deep indigo fruit, fall colour and a pleasing, open form.
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Blueberries are deciduous shrubs and lose their leaves every fall. As chilly nights alternate with cooler days, the seasonal change pushes the blueberry toward dormancy. The leaves turn an attractive yellow to vivid scarlet before dropping from the shrub, and the bright colour adds to the blueberry's usefulness in the landscape. Rake up the leaves to prevent overwintering insects or unwanted pathogens. Unless temperatures drop below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the blueberry will bloom and leaf out normally next spring.
Although many berry-producing plants tolerate and even thrive in average to alkaline soils, blueberries don't appreciate normal to high pH levels. Instead, these shrubs won't produce well without low pH soil levels, and the leaves curl under before dropping. Blueberry bushes in alkaline soils eventually die out. Test your soil before planting a blueberry and amend it, as necessary, using peat moss, ammonium sulphate or granular sulphur until the soil reaches a pH level of 4.5 to 5. Keep an eye on the pH level; test the soil annually.
Diseases usually don't result in widespread leaf drop, but chronic problems may eventually kill the plant. Powdery mildew affects crowded plants and forms a dusty fungal layer over affected leaves, and botrytis blight kills blossoms and twig tips. Both affect production but may leave the bulk of the blueberry unharmed. Phytophthora root rot, on the other hand, kills blueberries outright. Prevention is the best course of action. Choose and maintain healthy stock, nip problems in the bud and never plant blueberries in poorly draining areas.
Blueberries have shallow root systems and don't tolerate drought. In summer heat or dry spells, water the plant at the first signs of wilting; don't expect your blueberry to survive without regular water. Insect damage is usually a temporary setback if monitored. Blueberry tip borer, however, kills twigs and may introduce disease, killing your plant. Despite their specific needs, well-maintained blueberries reach their productive stride in roughly six years and are long-lived plants.
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