Growing Blueberries Hydroponically
Blueberries have numerous health benefits; they are rich in anthocyanin – a potent antioxidant, vitamins, minerals, and fibers. They can be a great addition to your morning smoothie, pies, or blueberry cheesecakes and muffins. If you love to spend time in the kitchen and have a lot of blueberries, you can even make a juice or blueberry jam.
When you think of blueberries, you probably imagine blueish-green bushes somewhere in the hills or, in the best case, a sad experiment in a pot. However, growing blueberries hydroponically is not difficult; you can do it without years of experience.
Reasons To Grow Blueberries Hydroponically
Hydroponic systems revolutionized how we grow plants in a controlled environment. Hydroponic crops grow in a nutrient-rich solution, soilless, where essential nutrients are delivered directly to the root systems. That way, we have greater control over the growing conditions, such as nutrient content, specific pH levels, light, humidity, and temperature, and better monitoring for potential pests and diseases.
As a result, we get healthy plants and abundant crops. Hydroponic cultivation results in a higher yield per square meter than standard plants growing in soil and extended growing seasons.
Because of their specific requirements regarding soil pH and light, blueberries are the type of crop that grows better hydroponically. It makes it easier to control pH and light, which can be challenging in outdoor gardens. Blueberries prefer acidic conditions and low pH of 4.5-5.5; maintaining it is easier in hydroponic systems. They also need exposure to the full sun, and by using high-intensity discharge lamps (HDL) or fluorescent lights, we can ensure they receive enough light.
Choosing The Right Hydroponic System
There are different types of hydroponic settings you can choose for growing blueberries, and which one – depends highly on their growth rates and space requirements. For now, the best results are the Ebb & Flow system, Drip system, and Nutrient Film Technique (NFT system).
Ebb & Flow
Ebb & Flow is the best option for growing hydroponic blueberries, and it is designed for more robust plants, but you can modify it for dwarf blueberry cultivars. Plants in a growing tray are regularly flooded with nutrient solution and drained to allow oxygen to get to plant roots.
Drip systems are another excellent choice for hydroponic blueberries. They work by providing a slow feed of nutrient solution directly to the base of each plant. This gives you precise control over the water and nutrients your blueberries receive, reducing the risk of overwatering and nutrient burn.
Nutrient Film Technique (NTF)
The NFT system offers excellent nutrient availability and oxygenation. A thin film of mineral nutrient solution flows constantly over the tips of the roots, and the upper parts remain in the air, absorbing oxygen. With an NFT system, there is no risk of waterlogging, and it allows precise control of nutrients and pH levels, which is crucial for successful blueberry growing.
Choosing The Right Varieties
You have to choose varieties of blueberries that are suitable for hydroponic growing. It depends on your preferences, your system type, and the hydroponic environment. According to the University of Florida research from 2009, most cultivars are self-unfruitful and require other cultivars for cross-pollination. Bees are natural pollinators, but if you grow your blueberries in the apartment, you can use a small brush to transfer pollen from anthers of one variety to the stigma of a different one, while flowers are receptive. It will ensure high yields and large berries.
This variety grows up to 5 ft tall and wide. It requires 800-1200 chill hours and takes 2-4 years to start bearing fruits. Berries are high quality, firm, light blue, and sweet. It is a self-pollinating variety, but it will produce larger and tastier berries if you plant it with other highbush varieties.
This type of blueberry has compact bushes that can grow up to 5 ft tall. The average yield is 10 pounds per bush. Berries are medium-sized, dark blue, slightly flattened, and sweet with a sour aftertaste.
Sunrise is a highbush cultivar and can grow up to 5 ft tall. Yields are 10-12 pounds per bush. Berries are firm, large, dark blue, and sweet. The first harvest is usually in the second year.
It is one of the first ripening cultivars in the season. Bush can grow up to 6 ft tall and wide. A plant is self-pollinating, but you can pair it with another variety to get bigger and tastier fruits. Berries are light blue and very aromatic.
Nui is a Northern highbush variety of blueberry fruit. It requires 750-1000 chill hours and can grow up to 3 ft tall and wide, which makes it an excellent choice for limited space. This variety produces high yields; berries are extremely large, firm, light blue, and delicious.
Preparation And Growing
When you just start to grow hydroponic blueberries, you need to follow some important steps to ensure healthy growth. If you are starting from scratch, you can find some additional tips here.
Setup Chosen Hydroponic System
Whichever system you decide to use for your blueberries, make sure to place it in a grow room with enough space for lush vegetation and proper ventilation. If your system is placed indoors, you can use mylar reflective film on the walls. That will help you to maximize exposure to light.
Prepare A Growing Medium
The growing medium for blueberries should be acidic, with a pH of 4.5-5.5. It’s best to use peat moss and mix it with some perlite to improve drainage. You can add Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), as it will provide much-needed sulfur and magnesium. Those two elements are essential for promoting plant growth and the development of berries.
Starting From Cuttings
Growing blueberries from cuttings is simple, and you wouldn’t have to wait very long until the first harvest.
Choose healthy new growth and take cutting 4-5 inches long. You can use rooting hormones to promote growing roots, but research at the University of Maine 2017 showed that rooting hormones didn’t significantly improve root development.
Plant the blueberry cuttings in the growing medium. There should be at least 2 inches of space between plants if they’re in the same container, but it’s a better idea to plant them in separate containers.
While technically possible, growing blueberries from seeds is not recommended, as it takes too long to grow and has a lower success rate.
Care And Maintenance
pH Levels And Electrical Conductivity
Maintaining the right pH levels is extremely important for hydroponic blueberries. You should regularly check the pH, adding sulfur prills to increase acidity if necessary. Also, keep an eye on the electrical conductivity (EC) to ensure the nutrient levels are optimal. For blueberries, it shouldn’t be above 1 mS/cm, according to research by the University of North Carolina 2020.
Light is another important factor. Blueberries require full sun, and in hydroponics, that would be 12-16 hours of high-intensity light per day. Fluorescent lights or high-intensity discharge lamps are excellent choices for indoor hydroponic gardens.
Temperature And Humidity
Temperature and humidity also play essential roles in the successful hydroponic cultivation of blueberries. They prefer cool to moderate temperatures, ideally between 72-76°F. The optimal humidity is between 65-75%
Proper care involves regular pruning to encourage new growth and maintain the size and shape of your blueberry bushes. Prune your plants in late winter or early spring, removing dead or damaged wood and thinning out crowded areas to increase airflow. This practice supports healthier plants, improves yield, and helps in disease prevention.
It is also necessary to remove buds and flowers during the first year. It will save energy for vegetative growth and ensure abundant berry crops later.
Harvest season is a rewarding time for hydroponic growers. The growing season for blueberries is usually 140 days, but you can shorten this period when growing hydroponically, with optimal light and temperature.
Ripe blueberries should be blue, with a slight whitish bloom. The berries will come off the stem easily when ready to be picked. While you can harvest blueberries over several weeks, regular picking encourages the plant to produce more fruit, leading to higher yields.
Cleaning Hydroponic System
During the growing season, you should clean tanks and pumps when changing nutrient solution. Start with a high-powered spray, or use clean water and a scrubbing brush.
After the growing season, remove pots to clean and sterilize the system with diluted bleach until you remove any residue. Rinse thoroughly with clean water, and you’re ready for the next season.
No matter how hard you try, you may encounter a few issues while growing hydroponic blueberries. Yellowing of the leaves may suggest a deficiency in necessary nutrients. You can add Epsom salts to alleviate magnesium deficiency, which commonly manifests as yellowing leaf tips. High amounts of sulfur, provided by the Epsom salts, will also help to maintain the low pH necessary for blueberry plants.
Monitoring your plants closely and adjusting the hydroponic solution will ensure ideal conditions. If your plants are not growing as expected, checking the pH and nutrient levels should be your first step.
Hydroponic solutions have become popular in recent years – even for hobbyist growers, especially when growing crops like blueberries. The best way to grow hydroponic blueberries is to learn and adapt. If you’re a new grower, don’t be discouraged by initial challenges. With careful attention to the plants’ needs and a willingness to adjust and learn, you can cultivate a healthy, fruitful blueberry plant in a hydroponic garden.
Growing hydroponic blueberries may not be the traditional route, but it’s rewarding. Whether you have a single plant or a full grow room, the experience of cultivating your own food is deeply satisfying.
So why not give it a try? Set up your hydroponic system, choose your variety of blueberries, and prepare to be part of the exciting world of hydroponics. With patience, proper care, and a bit of love, you’ll be enjoying your delicious blueberries in no time.