Is Your Blueberry Shrub Dying? Here’s Why, and How To Fix it!
Do you have a blueberry plant in your garden that looks like it's at the end of it's life? There are actually many reasons your blueberry plant may be dying. Not all of those reasons mean your plant can't rebound and survive. In this article, we look at each reason individually, as well as what you can do if there's still a chance to salvage your plant.
Blueberries are a favorite fruit for many people, so it’s no surprise that gardeners of all levels enjoy growing them in their gardens. While it can certainly be a rewarding experience to harvest your own blueberries, it’s possible to run into trouble when caring for blueberry plants.
By identifying the symptoms your plant is exhibiting, you can determine the reasons for its poor health. From here, if enough care is given, it’s possible to help your plants make a full recovery– even from the brink of death!
In this article, we will explain the different causes for your blueberry plants’ poor health, and give you solutions to help fix the problem. At the end of the article, we will also give you care tips to improve your plant’s health. This way, you can ensure good harvests from them in the years to come. Let’s get started!
Reasons Your Plant May Be Dying
In this section, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the symptoms your blueberry plant may be exhibiting as signs of a problem. We’ll talk about what causes these symptoms, and from there explore solutions to fix the problem.
Leaf discoloration could be caused by improper watering. It’s true that under-watering a plant can create many problems, but over-watering is also bad. In both cases, the plant is unable to bring nutrients in from the soil, as water is what gives them the ability to do this.
Under-watering a plant prevents any nutrients from coming in, while over-watering drowns the plant, also causing the same problem. As bad as under-watering is, over-watering can actually be a worse condition for your plant. This causes root rot, which can be deadly if prolonged.
Improper Soil Conditions
Soil conditions can also cause discoloration in your blueberry plant’s leaves. Well-drained soil is imperative to the health of most plants, and your blueberry plant is no exception. Bad drainage can cause the soil to retain too much moisture, and cause root rot as we have previously mentioned. If you can manage, you should aerate your soil before planting anything in it; this usually prevents most drainage problems provided that it is done adequately.
Poor soils can also make it difficult for your plants to absorb nutrients. Mixing in compost or other fertilizers can be a good idea during the growing period. Take care not to overfeed either, as this can cause the plant to burn, which also causes discoloration. Follow packaging instructions and don’t go above or below the recommended amount.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the soil pH. Blueberry plants love acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.0. Anything above 5.0 can cause harm to your plant. In particular, bad pH can not only cause leaf discoloration, but can also be the reason for leaves curling!
You can test your soil pH with a test kit, purchasable from most garden supply stores. If it is too acidic, you can bring the pH up with agricultural lime. To make soil more acidic, you can use organic matter such as pine needle mulch or coffee grounds.
Improper Sunlight Exposure
Proper sunlight exposure is essential for your blueberry plant, as this not only prevents discoloration but ensures that bloom and berry production is optimal. Blueberry plants love the full sun, and will need 6 hours of sunlight every day. While they can survive in partial shade, too much shade can cause them to be less productive.
Not enough sunlight can also mean starving your plant. Plants make their food with help from the sun, in a process called photosynthesis. Not getting enough sunlight leaves out a crucial component of their nutrition, which can then cause leaf discoloration and eventually, death.
Leaves will often start yellowing in the portions of the plant that get the least amount of sunlight. Eventually, they will turn brown and then fall off. This can spell death for your plant, so be sure they’re in a nice, sunny spot.
On the other hand, too much sunlight can also be a problem. This can cause sun scorching, which will turn the leaves brown and can also be a cause for death. Afford them some shade if you live somewhere that gets particularly hot. Moderation is key here, so try to find a good spot where they can get the sunlight they need without burning up in the heat.
Nutrient deficiencies are the biggest problem that causes your blueberry plants’ leaves to turn red. The first thing you should ensure is that the soil pH is at an acceptable, acidic level. This ensures better chances of success at treating the problem.
To figure out which deficiency your blueberry plant may be experiencing, you can purchase a soil test kit. Using the test will help you determine what the nutrient levels in the soil are, and then you can make adjustments as is necessary. It is still possible to determine the problem without a test kit, but this makes the job much easier.
A phosphorus deficiency can be seen in blueberry plants if you notice that their leaves are turning a maroon red in the springtime. This reddening comes from the increased presence of anthocyanin synthesis, usually seen stemming from the oldest parts of the plant.
The solution to this is to double-check your plants’ soil pH. Work to make the soil much more acidic than before; this will help your plants absorb the nutrients they need better. Organic matter is the best to use in this situation.
Eggshells, coffee grounds, manure (though not cat or dog manure), peat moss, alfalfa meal, and dried leaves are all good choices. Mulching the soil with these substances also has the added benefit of providing protection for the plant’s roots in the colder months.
Magnesium deficiency can easily be spotted if you notice the veins on your plant’s leaves turning red. A magnesium deficiency will mean that your plant will not be able to produce the chemical that turns the leaves green–chlorophyll.
This is necessary for food production and can lead to further nutrient deficiency if the problem isn’t controlled. The leaves will start turning yellow, and then turn fully red. This can be seen on the youngest leaves of the plant.
Thankfully, the solution to this problem is as simple as adding epsom salt to the soil. Epsom salt is made of hydrated magnesium sulfate, more simply known as magnesium and sulfur. This should remedy the lack of magnesium in the soil and bring the leaves back to a lush, green color. It may also have the added benefit of helping your plant grow more foliage, which is always nice to look at.
Overall, the cause for your blueberry plant’s leaves turning red may be from a general nutrient deficiency. This can usually be seen by the leaves turning a purplish red. Double-check that the soil is doing well in terms of pH and drainage.
Ensure that you are giving the plant enough sunlight and water, and not too much or too little of either. Using a test kit, you can determine what it is that the soil lacks, and purchase a plant food that contains more of those nutrients to remedy the situation. This can bring your plant back to good health.
Certain diseases can also turn your blueberry plant’s leaves red, and cause plant death if left untreated. These stem from fungal, bacterial, and viral infections. Understanding how to control the problem can make all the difference in your plant’s health, though certain cases may need you to restart with a new plant. In this case, you should work to save nearby plants from the same fate.
Phomopsis Twig Blight
This disease is identified by necrotic lesions, brown in color, forming on the plant’s twigs. Spots then develop on the twigs, then the leaves start to wilt. Bright green leaves end up turning red, and berries may be rotten at harvest time.
To solve this problem, prune the infected twigs off the plant during the dormant season. Destroy the portions you pruned off. As the plants recover, do not water them from overhead, as this could spread pathogens. You should also apply lime sulfur to breaking leaf buds. You can create a spray to use on the plants by diluting the lime sulfur in water. Use protective equipment and follow packaging instructions.
Powdery mildew affects many plants, including blueberry bushes. This is caused by the fungus Erysiphe vaccinii, causing a fluffy, white substance to appear on the leaves of the plant. With enough time, the leaves may yellow and form a red border, before eventually falling off the plant.
Prevention is really key here, as you shouldn’t be planting any blueberry shrubs too close to each other to prevent the spread of mildew. This also helps the air around the plants circulate better, avoiding the damp conditions that fungus loves. To treat the problem, prune the plant as you deem necessary, and apply a fungicide that contains sulfur. This should bring the plants back into good health.
Blueberry Leaf Scorch
Blueberry plants may be affected by a bacterial disease called blueberry leaf scorch, which turns the leaves red. This is caused by the bacteria Xylella fastidiosa. It restricts the flow of nutrients in the plant, causing the leaves to turn red. Leaf and berry production goes down until the plant eventually dies.
Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of this disease is to remove and destroy all infected plants. Ensure that you do this as soon as you identify the problem, as any pests that may have come in contact with your plants can spread it to others. Prevention is truly key here. Neonicotinoid products like thiamethoxam can help your plants form a resistance to the disease and prevent them from contracting it.
Blueberry Shoestring Virus
The blueberry shoestring virus is a viral disease that can really take a toll on your plants. It causes reddish streaking both on the leaves and stems of the plant. This disease spreads through the aphid vector Illinoia pepperi. If left unchecked, it could seriously affect your blueberry yield.
The best way to rid the plant of the disease is to eliminate the aphid vector. Biological, chemical, or cultural controls can help stop the spread of the virus. Many insecticides are proven to be useful against aphids. Once you spot the infection, prune away any infected parts of the plant to control the spread. Burn these parts properly.
Credit for above photo to: Dr. Mark Longstroth and Michigan State University Extension, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Septoria Leaf Spot
Also known as septoria blight, this disease causes flat, sunken lesions to appear on the plant’s stems and leaves. They have gray or tan centers, and tend to weaken newer plants more than older ones. You may notice the leaves have tiny black spots; these are the spores of the fungus. This disease can be controlled, but if not taken care of fast enough, may render a plant unhealthy all its life and unable to bear fruit.
To prevent the problem, ensure that you are planting your blueberry shrubs well enough apart to prevent the moist conditions that fungus thrives in. Prune your bushes regularly to create good air circulation between plants. Water your plants only at the base to prevent spores from flying into the air and infecting other plants. Control the weeds that grow at the base of the plant, as these can carry spores. Burn the weeds you remove.
Using a good quality fungicide can help control the problem, especially if used before symptoms worsen. Repeat the application for a few weeks to fully eradicate the disease. If you don’t want to use synthetic chemicals, you can opt for organic products that contain copper or potassium bicarbonate.
Mummy Berry Disease
Mummy berry disease is caused by a fungus residing in rotten blueberries that rest at the base of the plant– the fungal pathogen Monilinia vaccinilicorymbosi. This is a common affliction in blueberry plants, but should not be underestimated, because it can turn deadly.
You can see the leaves turning brown to black at the center, slowly spreading towards the margins. The fruit looks normal on the outside, but when cut open, has spongy, white, fungal flesh on the inside.
Begin treatment by removing all rotten berries from the base of the plant. Prune infected branches. Destroy all infected matter with fire. You can also use a fungicide for several weeks to help with treatment. Prevent the disease by mulching the plant in early spring; this prevents splashback of spores. As usual with fungal diseases, keep a good spacing ratio between the plants and water only at the base.
Blueberry Leaf Rust
Blueberry leaf rust isn’t a very serious problem, but can cause leaves to fall off the plant prematurely, as well as affect the yield of marketable fruit. It is caused by the fungus Pucciniastrum vaccinia, and presents itself as yellow-orange pustules on the underside of the leaves.
On the leaves’ top surface, yellow-brown spots are present. Infection occurs most frequently in places with milder temperatures, from 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It also exacerbates with many days of extended rainfall.
This disease can certainly be an annoyance. As with other fungal diseases on this list, you should try pruning all parts that are infected. Use a fungicide for several weeks to control the problem. More than this, prevention is an important measure. Keep your plants well separated to promote good air circulation. Avoid overhead irrigation. For best results, any new plants should be cultivars that are resistant to the disease.
Stem blight in blueberry plants is dangerous. This disease comes from a fungus called Botryosphaeria dothidea, and more often affects younger plants some 1 to 2 years old. However, this disease can occur in more mature plants, too. It prevents the plant from fruiting properly, and can even cause death.
The infection is caused by a wound somewhere on the plant, where the fungus enters. This can be caused by human error, insects, or frost damage. The fungus causes the stems to turn a reddish brown, eventually turning black.
This disease is unfortunately incurable, but doesn’t always mean death for your plants. You can control the disease by pruning infected parts of the plant and destroying them afterwards. Avoiding fertilizing in midsummer could also help, as this discourages new growth when frost could easily damage it. Take care not to prune younger plants too much, as this can cause infection, too. Early detection can help your plant make a full recovery, as long as you keep up with its maintenance.
If you live somewhere with extreme temperatures, your blueberry plant’s flowers could die, and so can the rest of the plant. Temperatures falling below 23 degrees Fahrenheit can kill the developing flower buds. On the other hand, high temperatures could also scorch the flowers and other parts of the plant.
It’s best to give your plant adequate protection. Using a plant cover during the nighttime can prevent harsh, cold temperatures from damaging the plant. Mulching can help protect the roots of the plant, too. In cases of extreme heat, water your plants more deeply and allow them some shade to prevent flowers and leaves from scorching.
Sometimes, when the branches on your blueberry plant get old enough, they begin to die, eventually falling off the plant. If you notice this happening, but all the other parts of the plant are healthy, then this usually isn’t anything to worry about.
If you keep your plants well protected from the cold, then it probably isn’t a frost damage issue. As the branches die, you should cut them off, leaving no old-growth behind. This promotes new growth and can get your plant looking healthy again.
Pest infestations can really cause trouble for blueberry shrubs, no matter how many you have planted. While many animals will choose to eat the berries only, keeping your plants safe from pests can ensure better health. Many pests can destroy the plant entirely, after all.
Birds and Mammals
Protecting your plants from birds and mammals who want to munch on the berries can prove to be a problem. There are a few measures you can take to prevent damage.
You can add netting over your plants to prevent birds and other animals from getting to your produce. This is a bit of a hassle but ensures that you will still have a yield to look forward to when the time comes to harvest. Birds hate reflective, flashy surfaces. You can opt to place mylar balloons in your edible garden to drive them away. Move the balloons every few days to confuse the birds.
An old classic to scare away pests is the dutiful scarecrow. However, you can take the concept and amp it up by purchasing a fake owl that screeches and spins around to scare the birds off. Like the balloons, move the owl every few days so you don’t give the trick away.
If larger animals are the problem, keeping your blueberries behind a barrier, like a fence, can really deter them. You can purchase deer-proof fencing, coming at a height of about 8 feet high, and install it fairly easily.
Insects of all kinds can devour blueberry plants, and they tend to be a lot more insidious than larger animals. If you suspect an insect infestation, you can hang sticky traps to catch any bugs that may be living on your blueberries. Thrips, aphids, and leafhoppers are commonly seen on blueberry plants. Identifying the threat early can help prevent the most damage.
Spraying insecticide, or insecticidal soap, can really make a big difference in the control of these pests. Neem oil is another good option to use. Be sure to check your crops often for signs of these pests so you can keep them well protected. Constant vigilance is the best weapon in the fight against insects damaging your precious blueberries.
Root damage can be a reason your blueberry plant isn’t doing too well. This can happen in a few different ways. It could be that there isn’t enough room for your plant’s roots to grow, or that using a tool too roughly has damaged the roots. Root rot is also an issue that stems from poor drainage.
Compacted roots happen when there isn’t enough space for a blueberry plant to grow. This is especially common in container plants. This can cause leaves to fall off and the plant may become more and more unhealthy. Taking a look at the plant’s bottom tray can help. If the roots are sticking out at the bottom, then it is time to repot in a bigger container. Pruning the roots can also make a difference, though this isn’t a permanent solution.
Ensure that the soil you are using for your plants is well-drained to prevent damage and rot. Taking a look at the roots can give you a good picture if they are healthy or not. Healthy roots are a pale, whitish-yellow color. Diseased roots are dark and may have a foul odor. If the roots are diseased, it is time to discard the plant and start over.
Another reason your blueberry shrubs may not be doing well is simple acclimation. Sometimes it takes a while for a plant to get used to a new environment. Being transported from a comfortable greenhouse and brought into an unfamiliar place can cause a lot of stress for the plant.
This can manifest in dramatic ways and may cause you to think that your plant is dying. Be sure to give it a lot of care during this time, and allow it the time it needs to bounce back. It should come back to full health soon enough, as long as care is consistent.
Change in Seasons
The final reason your blueberry plant may be exhibiting signs of poor health is the change of the seasons. When the time comes for the plant to go dormant, it is normal for foliage to fall off. Even though the plant is withering, it is simply doing what it needs to rest for the end of the year.
This is in preparation for another fruitful year ahead. Provide adequate winter protection for your blueberry plant, so that it can come back in the spring. With the right care, you will be able to enjoy blueberries for years into the future. All living things need rest, after all!
Blueberry Plant Care Tips
Plant your blueberries in the early to mid-spring.
Try to plant them as soon as you can in the spring. If you can’t plant them immediately, keep the plant cool and the roots moist. Refrigeration is a good idea.
Be paitent with your blueberry plants!
Blueberry plants will not produce fruit the first two years, so be patient! Care for them well and give them plenty of sunlight and water to encourage growth.
Use acidic soil when planting.
It cannot be overstated that blueberries must have acidic soil! Test the soil’s pH frequently. It may be a good idea to have a dedicated blueberry patch so as not to damage nearby plants that may not like acidic soil.
Do your best to control weeds in the area.
Control weeds as much as possible. Clear the soil of weeds before planting, and remove weeds as they come up. Try not to use tools any deeper than 2 inches into the soil, as blueberries have shallow roots.
Get rid of the diseased parts of your plant.
When pruning your blueberry plants to get rid of diseased parts, be sure to sanitize your tools very well before using them on any other plants. This will prevent any illness from spreading to healthy plants.
We hope that this article has answered your questions on how to save your blueberry plants from dying. While there can be a plethora of causes for a plant’s ill health, there’s often a solution to help them bounce back. Putting these plans into action at the soonest possible time can really make all the difference in your plant’s recovery, so get right to it!
Remember that prevention is always better than cure, so see to it that your plant’s needs are met. This way, you can expect them to thrive for years into the future. If we answered your questions, or if you have anything else you’d like to ask, feel free to ask us in the comments section below!