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In the US, blueberries are a native crop. It wasn’t until the early 1800s when berries were consumed in a commercial setting. Blueberries were canned and shipped to Union troops during the Civil War, yet public availability and production weren’t improved until after the war by regular pruning and the crop management has intensified ever since.

In 2016, over 588 million pounds of cultivated blueberries were sold in the United States. Over the last two decades, blueberry consumption has risen by more than 600 percent, making it one of the fastest-growing fruit demands of this century.

Keeping up with this high demand for berries in crop production requires a more efficient understanding of how the plant responds to the nutrients we’re giving them. The blueberry plant, a lot like cranberries do not create root hairs, which are vital to the absorption of moisture and nutrients in the soil. Because of this, the root system does not root deep into the soil profile, and the larger roots serve more of the purpose of an anchor and water delivery than nutrient uptake.

Without confusion, a young blueberry plant does create feeder roots, but these are short-lived in taking up and transporting nutrients, usually dying out within 110 to 130 days. So, the main question posed is, how can we persuade the plant to create a healthy root system and continue nutrient uptake after our 4-5-month window?

Before we can answer this though, there is another piece of biology to tackle, where Ferticell® Universal™ will come into play twofold is hormone production. Cytokinin is produced in the root system, mainly root hairs, which limits the amount of the hormone produced in the

Ferticell® Explorer™, Universal™ and Calcium 880Plus™ trial on organic blueberries in California

blueberry plant. Cytokinin is responsible for reproductive growth, i.e. fruit development. The other hormone involved in this growth partitioning is Auxins. Auxins control shoot development, or overall vegetative growth. These two hormones control both vegetative growth and fruit development. Too much of one, or the other and the unbalance is yieldingly detrimental.

Based on its algae extract component, Ferticell® Universal™ delivers both auxins and cytokinin at the early stages of plant development from a seed, all the way through harvest. Its ability to increase both new root development in young plants and shoot growth is ideal for organic and conventional blueberry production, extending and maximizing our 130-day window for new root growth as mentioned before without added stress to the plant. Universal™ can also be used after bloom to promote proper coloring and raising Brix levels.

In the event where Auxin production overtakes Cytokinin in an uneven growth partitioning, excessive vegetative growth will occur. Fruit production will be limited, and yields will be affected. In most cases, this happens when nitrates are in excess, creating a leggier shoot and plant resources push toward vegetative growth rather than fruit and tuber development. In blueberries, this is most commonly due to its inability to take up some forms of nitrogen.

Blueberries metabolize nitrogen differently than other plants, converting nitrate N to protein using a nitrate reductase allowing the plant to use the N it’s taken up. By spoon-feeding the plant with Ferticell® Explorer™, we’re able to deliver that plant protein molecule without the need for the plant to make the conversion. This direct small dose of N can be applied a myriad of ways along with other materials, maximizing application cost and production efficiency throughout the growing season. Since Explorer™ is immediately available, N delivery timing is reduced, and nutrient management is easy and efficient.

“Nitrogen should not be in the nitrate form since nitrates occasionally have been shown to be toxic to blueberry plants.” – Richard A. Hayden, Fertilizing Blueberries, 2001

Organic California Blueberries that were grown with Ferticell® Universal™ 0-0-1

 To extrapolate the issues of nitrates in blueberries, you have to understand the issues caused by excess Nitrogen. By understanding the hormone production in blueberry plants, we know with excess nitrates, auxin hormone production will be excessive. These nitrates, although sourced from the soil must be converted into proteins in the leaf tissue. This buildup of auxins in the leaf tissue will cause vegetative growth and leaf flush, which will lower yields. It is important to evaluate all of the nitrogen sources being applied since all N will be taken up as Nitrate, or proteins if applied as such.

In review, we can determine that for nitrate management, an organic nitrogen source, much like Ferticell® Explorer™ is a more reliable source of nitrogen for blueberry production. Since blueberries respond poorly to excess nitrates, and ammonium sulfate and urea will still be taken up by the plant as nitrates. We can apply Explorer™ in low, economic rates because of the nitrogen availability, making it extremely efficient and most importantly economical.

Along with measuring our N delivery to limit a buildup of Auxins, we can help push root development in young plants from the beginning with Ferticell® Universal™, and into harvest years by delivering a balanced pallet of both auxins, cytokinins, tannins and other beneficial plant growth hormones to the plant, maximizing both vegetative growth and fruit production, creating a healthy growth curve all the way to yield, as seen in these organic California blueberries (See Figure A).

Looking at other Ferticell® Products for Blueberries:

  • Ferticell® Nutri-Plus™ is a great defense against the cold weather or any period of biotic or abiotic plant stress. If there is a cold-weather period coming, or if there is danger of a frost, we need to spray a foliar application of Ferticell® Nutri-Plus™.  This will help protect from the frost and prevent the plant from becoming stressed and stopping growth. It can also assist in plant recovery after a stress event.
  • Ferticell® Calcium 880Plus™ (25% Ca) or Ferticell® ProCal™ 3-0-0 Plus 20Ca can deliver the needed calcium to the fruit after bloom. While calcium is phloem immobile, by applying Calcium 880Plus™ through the drip, and ProCal™ via foliar, we can tie the ProCal Ca into the leaf tissue using the Protein N 3% as a carrier, allowing the Calcium 880Plus to be more available to the fruit. Whether conventional or organic, Ferticell® offers a superior calcium program in blueberry production

Consult your Ferticell® representative or local distributor regarding specific rates and timings for all products mentioned.

Click for the Ferticell® Conventional and Organic Blueberry Program