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I have some blueberry bushes. Some were just planted two weeks ago, and others are two years old.

However, they aren't draining as well as I'd like during heavy rains, and had some standing water around them.

Knowing that blueberry bushes are shallow-rooted, can I reach below their roots with a shovel, leverage the bushes higher with the shovel, and push extra material (potting soil or rotting fruit) underneath to elevate the bushes another inch or two?

(To clarify: Physically, I can do this easily. What I'm asking is, would it damage the plant, since it'd like semi-disturb its roots?)

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I have, by dint of an underground service that needed to be serviced which was under my blueberry bed, transplanted the entire bed some years after it was established (more than 2.)

While they probably would have been happier left alone, they were minimally impacted for all that. I basically raked off the mulch, dug up each plant with as much root mass still in soil as I could manage, set that aside, transferred as much of the acid soil to the new location as was practicable, loaded the plant into the wheelbarrow and replanted it in the acid soil in the new location (minimizing the time the plant was displaced) remulched, and watered well (but not too much) for a few weeks.

In your case rather than "push under" (which seems prone to voids, to me) I'd get the pile of new dirt ready, skid the plant out of the way, set the new dirt, and replace the plant. Or, move the rows sideways (pile up the new dirt, move the plants onto it.)

I would not suggest using rotting fruit - let that finish composting before applying it to plants. A sandy soil (under the shallow root zone, which should be high in humus) would be a good choice for drainage and considering where blueberries seem to be happy in the wild.

If terrain allows, another option to improve drainage (with no root disturbance) would be a ditch all around the blueberry bed, draining away from it.

  • Thanks for the suggestions! The soil is very clayish, so what I originally did is dig 2-foot wide and 2-foot deep holes and filled with better soil. Obviously, this isn't draining too well (though it does drain, and is only a problem in spring). Digging a ditch is a good idea - I'll dig a ditch alongside the blueberries - only about a foot deep, so excess water can drain into the ditch, and then fill it with... something. Maybe woodchips, pine needles, gravel, and thicker sand or something. I could also put a french drain at the bottom of the trench, but maybe that'd drain things too fast. – Jamin Grey Apr 2 '17 at 16:37
  • I'll keep an eye on my blueberries, and if they look like they are surviving, I'll leave them be. If they get flooded once a year but keep surviving, should I still do something? I have two rows 10 feet apart. would digging a french drain in the middle of the two rows (5 feet away from each row) still aid drainage? – Jamin Grey Apr 2 '17 at 16:38
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Luckily for you, blueberries are bog plants. They adore the low pH and they are one of the few plants that can deal with wet soil. They'd do better with some drainage as clay will hold onto water far longer than all other soils.

Leave the plant and roots alone. Pull the soil back away from the wood stems. Dig a trench on the lower side of the slope to collect excess water...about a couple of feet from the base. You did do that but I have to say clay is great soil. Just leave the trench open don't back fill it.

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They are bog plants, but they prefer good drainage as well as lots of water.

They also prefer acid soil, so "potting soil" is not a good idea unless it was formulated for acid-loving plants. "Rotting fruit" sounds like an invitation to problems from rodents, etc. and in any case the main constituent of the fruit will be water, so it won't raise the height of the plants for long.

A better option would be conifer clippings, or pine needles. You can put that type of material under the roots "raw" and let it decompose naturally - which may take 2 or 3 years, depending on your climate. If you don't have a "free" source of that type of material, you can buy pine bark chips sold for mulching.

  • It's a lot of work and money but in the end it's much better to ameliorate whole patches of soil than just in the planting holes. In clay soil freedraining planting spots become tubs that collect water. – chris Apr 2 '17 at 23:05
  • @chris That's what I'm learning the hard way (water-collecting tubs). Not fun bailing them out with a bucket! – Jamin Grey Apr 18 '17 at 1:05

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