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Blueberry seedlings update

Blueberry seedlings update

Two years old seedlings

2 years old blueberry seedling during late winter
2 years old blueberry seedling during late winter

Two years ago, I have started growing blueberries from seeds. I have collected some of the seeds from large healthy fruits on my old blueberry plants. After stratification, seeds germinated very well and I ended up with many tiny slow growing blueberry seedlings. I have waited two years, before planting them into their final location and I have kept them in a rather small container in peat without any additional fertilizer. They could be a lot happier if i’d give them some food earlier, but they managed to grow anyway. When I planted them into mound of peat outside last year, they immediately started growing large shoots (compared to existing growth). In autumn, it became evident, that most of the seedling set up their first flower buds. Some failed to survive the weight of snow during the winter.

Young, nicely colored leaves
Young, nicely colored leaves

Seedlings at the beginning of their third growing season.
Seedlings at the beginning of their third growing season.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Third growing season

In early spring, buds started opening
In early spring, buds started opening.

In early spring, the buds started swelling and I noticed they will start even more vigorous than last year. All the 1 year old shoots started leafing out early with nice red colored young leaves. All the shoots were extremely healthy and small seedlings soon began to look like nice little bushes. Some of the shoots have already started flowering. Flowers and leaves seem to be similar to their parent plants, but there is one plant with slightly different flowers. One of the seedlings have flowers which have much smaller opening of the flower. Despite being tighter and possibly harder for the pollinators to pollinate the flowers, there did not seem to be any issues regarding pollination.

FIRST FLOWERING

I didn’t expect them to start flowering so early, as they are not taller than 30 cm with shoots just a few mm thick. At first, when flower buds opened, flowers appeared to be small and perhaps even a bit distorted with stigma pointing out of developing petals. Later, flowers developed normally and the seedlings started flowering at the same time as their parents. It will be interesting to see their fruits when they ripen. Plant appearance is roughly identical to their parents so I’d guess the fruits will be the same  as well.

Flowers are identical to those of their parents
Flowers are identical to those of their parents
During third year, seedlings started flowering
During third year, seedlings started flowering

 

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Propagation of Blueberries by cuttings

Propagation of Blueberries by cuttings

Blueberry propagation is relatively easy and gives good results, but it takes at least a year to get a well rooted plant that can be planted to it’s final location.

One year old branches can be used. Flower buds on top have to be removed.
One year old branches can be used. Flower buds on top have to be removed.

Blueberries are usually propagated from softwood or hardwood cuttings by cutting twigs from healthy mother plants. Cuttings are then placed into soil, that holds moisture well and allows adequate aeration. Drainage is extremely important and in most cases cuttings fail to root, because of waterlogged soil which causes young fragile roots to rot. Softwood cuttings are usually taken during the late spring or early summer. Hardwood cuttings, on the other hand, can be obtained during winter dormancy in January or February in northern hemisphere.

Blueberry propagation
Awaking dormant bud

Hardwood cuttings usually give better results than softwood cuttings, which are more delicate, can easily dessicate and are more susceptible to fungal infections and rot. To take hardwood cuttings, one year old shoots are used. It’s essential that the cuttings don’t have flower buds, if they do, you need to cut off the top part of the shoot. Flowers make rooting almost impossible, because they deplete the energy of the cutting faster than new roots can grow. Cuttings need to be 10 to 12 cm long. Bottom part of each cutting needs to be severed, to promote root growth. By peeling of 1 cm of bark on one side of the cutting should be enough. Place the cuttings into the soil so that the peeled bark ends up on the bottom in the substrate. You need to stick at least half of the cutting below soil level and only one or two leaf buds above the soil.

leaves on blueberry cutting
Fresh set of leaves on Blueberry branch cutting.
Soil needs to be acidic with pH ranging from 4.5 to 5 and slightly moist. Good drainage is essential. At first, without the leaves, water consumption will be minimal, so water the cuttings accordingly. When the leaves start growing, they need a bit more water and can use occasional misting. In case of misting, good ventilation is essential to prevent fungal infections. In early summer, blueberry cuttings should start growing faster. Faster growth indicates that the roots have started growing and that the plants started to use new source of nutrients. At that point, blueberries can start receiving their fertilizer. At first, I rather use half strength solution of water soluble fertilizer. If the plants don’t complain, I up the dosage according to instructions on the label.

 

callus formation
Callus formation

In a couple of months, cuttings form callus around the wounded tissue and it doesn’t take long before first roots appear and the cuttings take off. The roots are fragile in the beginning, so it’s essential to keep the rooting medium moist but not overly wet. It is essential to keep the cuttings protected from drying out at this phase. If everything goes well, first cuttings start swelling the buds on the shoots they initially grew in the beginning. The new growth indicates that the cuttings made their first roots. Those roots make it possible for them to acquire more nutrients and continue with growth. When their second growth phase is completed after the growth of new leaves and shoots ceases, it’s time to plant them into separate pots. Some of the cuttings never make it and I wouldn’t wait too long, before I transplant the ones that had rooted successfully.

 

New shoots are a good sign - cuttings have grown roots!
New shoots are a good sign – cuttings have grown roots!
New growth started in mid summer
New growth started in mid summer

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Blueberry seeds

Blueberry seeds

During early summer, I’ve taken several ripe Vaccinium corymbosum blueberries and kept them frozen for 6 months. During that time, they should become stratified enough to complete their dormancy. Without stratification period in the freezer, seeds would not become viable and would fail to germinate.

Washed and dried blueberry seeds
Washed and dried blueberry seeds
When blueberries thawed, I placed them into strainer and broke them into small pieces with my fingers. At the same time I was pouring cold tap water through the strainer, to clean the seeds and take out larger pieces of fruit without the seeds. I placed the seeds into paper towel and placed it on a drafty windowsill to dry. When dried, I started preparing peat moss for them to start germinating. The seeds are small, so I decided to use blender and shred the larger particles into small pieces.
 

vaccinium_corymbosum-seedsBlueberries need a lot of light, moisture and slightly acidic soil. They can germinate slowly, so I had to make sure to prevent mold from destroying the young seedlings. I used microwave and sterilized peat moss, before I planted the seeds. I also tried fermenting several seeds for 2 days and started germinating them in wet paper towel.

Young blueberry seedlings
Young blueberry seedlings
One month after I started, I’ve already had mold issues in both, peat and paper towel. After that I placed peat out of it’s originally planned sealed plastic bag, so It could dry out a bit. It dried out… a lot. I then noticed peat is way too compacted, so I used a toothpick to make it at least a bit softer and aerated. After a month, there were no signs of germination and after all the issues, I almost gave up. Before throwing everything into compost bin, I finally saw one tiny seedling starting to break free. After only a couple of days, more seedlings appeared and at the same time, I noticed that seeds in the paper towel also started sprouting. Despite the fact that seeds were fresh and stratified, they took more than a month to finally start germinating.

 

One month old seedlings.
One month old seedlings.

One month after seedlings first appeared, I decided to give them more light. They immediately started growing faster and started changing color to darker green, with more red coloring in new leaves. I used very small containers so they needed watering every two days in intense light. Before, when I placed them into completely shaded location, they only needed watering every couple of weeks.

Placing the seeds into small germinating trays soon became an issue. As seedlings started to grow, they were more and more susceptible to drought. I placed some into well fertilized peat and they died instantly, as I expected they would. Remaining seedlings were placed in clumps into pure peat on May 2nd when sun isn’t strong enough to kill them, but can fasten up their growth.

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