Growing hydroponic blueberries is a great way to be able to grow blueberries all year around. Learn how to setup your hydroponic system properly to ensure a great blueberry harvest.
Basically, any fruit can be grown with a hydroponic system, the trick lies in doing it cost effectively.
Some varieties will naturally lend themselves better to a hydroponic scenario. Fruits that typically thrive in moist and wet conditions generally fare better, blueberries are one of these.
Blueberries, which require very acidic conditions when grown in soil have little different requirements when grown in a hydroponic solution.
Blueberries can produce well in hydroponic systems, they are not however without their drawbacks.
- pH for Hydroponic Blueberries should be 4.5 to 5.8
- The temperature should be kept between 72F and 76F
- 12-16 hours of light daily optimal, but a minimum of 8 hrs.
- Planting blueberry plants from seed is not feasible. Transplants are recommended.
- The optimal humidity range should be 65% -75%
- Harvest 12 months/year is possible with staggered growth cycles.
- Blueberries Year Round
- PPM – 1260-1360
Nutrient Requirements for Hydroponic Blueberries
Blueberries are distinct among fruit crops in some of their requirements. They require a low pH – acidic conditions and will not grow under alkaline conditions.
Blueberries are impossible to grow in conventional soil gardens with an alkaline pH regardless of the soil amendments added. In hydroponics this is easier to control than blueberries grown in soil, but does require diligence.
pH … Keep in mind that the requirements of Soil ph is not the requirements of Hydroponics pH
Do not confuse Hydroponic ph and Soil pH. Optimal pH for a standard nutrient solutions is between 5.5-6.0, although most plants can still survive in an environment with a pH of between 5.0 and 7.5.
If your nutrient solution or growing medium is too alkaline or too acidic many of the vital Hydroponic Nutrients will be wasted , un-absorbed by the plant. Blueberries MUST be kept at a Ph of 4.5 to 5.8 and 1260-1360ppm.
Sulfur For Hydroponic Blueberries
Blueberry plants use high amounts of sulfur, which is generally not lacking in a hydroponic system for normal plants, but blueberries are not normal plants, they require elevated sulfur levels.
The normal range of sulfur in the initial water is anywhere from 10 to 80 Parts per Million [ppm], more comes with standard nutrient formulas.
However, blueberries frequently require more than standard formulas can furnish. Adding sulfur to the solution for blueberry plants can be problematic as sulfur is not water-soluble.
Related: Hydroponic Strawberry Growing Guide
Signs of nutrient deficiency are the yellowing of the leaves and veins. Leaf tips will frequently yellow and curl downwards.
A uniform pale green yellowish chlorosis throughout the entire plant. The younger leaves generally appear paler much earlier than the mature foliage. Stunted growth, less branching are other symptoms.
Sulfur Prills commonly used in a sulfur evaporating system are one method of adding much-needed sulfur to blueberry plants, another method sometimes used is sulfate salts of other major nutrient elements, in particular, magnesium and potassium – Magnesium Sulfate or Potassium Sulfate.
Epsom salts are recommended for use on blueberry plants grown in soil, in a hydroponic system it is always useful and could foul up your nutrient solution big time.
Epsom salts when not properly used can wreak havoc. Before adding any to your system you first want to be certain that your pH is in the correct parameters.
If your pH is out of kilter and you add Epsom salts you run the risk of burning your plants and creating additional problems. Too much Epsom salt, in addition to fouling up the pH also has a tendency to dry out root systems.
Another method I’ve experimented with, that seems to be working, is companion planting blueberries with Garlic.
Garlic accumulates sulfur, and some are released in the solution which is readily absorbed by the blueberry plants. It’s not a quick fix but is helpful in the long run.
The berries that I grow, I frequently put into inexpensive poly bags, Grow Bags, with a mix of Perlite and vermiculite, 70% Perlite 30% Vermiculite.
Perlite does not retain much water, it draws it up via transpirational pull, Vermiculite retains too much water with Blueberries and other berry crops.
You want to avoid too much moisture near the root base for extended periods due to the high susceptibility to root rot. A blend of these 2 mediums seems to do the trick.
Although the perlite vermiculite blend is best – other mediums such as expanded clay will also suffice.
A drip system is best, and any surplus solution that drains from the bags goes directly into a waste receptacle which gets reused for one cycle, and one cycle only, and then goes onto my outdoor compost.
I find this much more time efficient than endeavoring to constantly maintain nutrient levels.
It is best to plant at least 2 or more plants of each variety you choose.
Staggered ripening intervals can also be advantageous if wish to harvest continuously.
Blueberry plants take 3-5 years to get established and bear good yields, don’t expect much of a harvest – if any at all – the first annual cycle – by the second you should start getting a very modest amount.
Optimal Lighting Conditions
The best option for lighting is a High-Intensity Discharge lamp,[HID] fixture. They are among the most intense and most closely simulate sunlight. Fluorescent fixtures will suffice with decreased yields.
LED Lights will also work, they are not as good as the HID but tend to be more cost-effective. You may also want to consider using Mylar Reflective Film to optimize your use of available light to the plant.
12 -16 hours of light daily is best, the more light the better, but never 24/7. Like all plants, they do require several hours of darkness in each daily cycle.
In a conventional garden, blueberries need a growing season of around 140 days. In a hydroponic setting, this time can be shortened depending on the conditions you provide, to allow for multiple harvests.
However, keep in mind that any blueberry plant grown hydroponically should be placed into a simulated winter for at least a month annually.
Blueberry Dormancy and Pruning
Dormancy in blueberries can be averted, however, they require a cold season in order to adequately set fruit. Basically , there is little chance of harvesting from any single blueberry plant year-round which is another reason to have several.
Averting dormancy in blueberry plants will lead to a plant that grows lush vegetation but no or very little fruit.
Blueberry plants grown indoors need to prune, even more so than those grown outdoors. Pruning blueberry bushes improve the quantity and quality of yields.
Remove any dead wood, discolored and excessive low growth (about 1/3 off your plant should be pruned away each year).
Proper pruning practices contribute significantly to consistent production, high yields, and fruit of good quality and helps to ensure a long life for the planting.
Remove any flowers/ Berry buds the first year to divert energy and nutrients to foliage. This may be a difficult thing to do, knowing that those flowers will yield the delicious blueberries that you crave, but it is necessary to ensure an abundant crop and healthy plants in the coming seasons.
Hydroponic Blueberry Pollination
Hand pollination is time-consuming and labor-intensive, but Blueberries can’t be adequately pollinated by simply shaking the plants. If you have a location such as a greenhouse, garage, or shed where you don’t mind letting bees and other pollinators in – go for it! If not you will need to hand pollinate.
Avoiding Root Rot In Hydroponic Blueberries
- If transplanting from soil to a hydroponic system be sure to remove all soil residue off the root-ball without saturating the roots. Try not to let the roots dry out in the hardening and transplanting process. The plant’s energy is stored in the root system so be sure to do as little damage as feasible when transplanting.
- Hydroponic Root Health supplements will help to eradicate Root rot, so will horticultural peroxide. The least expensive route is a common household bleach. Add 5 – 7 drops per gallon of water twice weekly. Chlorine will naturally dissipate in water so it should be added every 3 -4 days or ‘twice weekly’.
If you prefer to stick with an organic method Beneficial microbes / Beneficial bacteria have been reported to be successful. Most commonly Mycorrhizae, are beneficial fungi that penetrate the root systems of most plants in nature.
They are helpful in providing improved uptake of water and nutrients from the growing media. They also help protect the roots from harmful pathogens and disease.
Trichoderma is a beneficial fungus that colonizes root systems. They prevent harmful fungi from entering the same root system, stimulate root development, and improve the plant’s adaptability to environmental stress.