Something causing rabbiteye blueberry leaves to shrivel

Mulch with pine needles instead of peat moss. They lower PH over time. Use some form of acid to water the soil which will rapidly reduce PH. Incorporate some sulfur into the soil, but be careful, PH can drop too fast causing problems with growth.

6.9 is really not that high, but for blueberries, it is very much a problem. Most tales of slow growing blueberry plants wind up being related to soil PH.

I agree with most of the above suggestions. However, I have read that pine needles don’t lower soil pH.

From Oregon State Extension:
" MYTH: Ponderosa pine needles make the soil more acidic (low pH).

REALITY: The notion that pine needle change the soil pH so that nothing will grow or that it will damage plants has been out there for years. The truth is pine needles do not make the soil more acidic. It is true that pine needles have a pH of 3.2 to 3.8 (neutral is 7.0) when they drop from a tree. If you were to take the freshly fallen needles (before the needles decompose) and turn them into the soil right away, you may see a slight drop in the soil pH, but the change would not be damaging to the plants."

From New Hampshire Extension:
" Pine needles themselves are acidic but do not have the capacity to appreciably lower the soil pH. To do that, it is necessary to incorporate a soil acidifier such as sulfur or aluminum sulfate. If you are unsure of the pH in your garden, you should have the soil tested. As pine needles break down and are incorporated into the soil, decomposing organisms gradually neutralize them. Thus, there is no harm in using pine needles to mulch shrub borders, flower beds and vegetable gardens. Even a 2 to 3 inch layer of pine mulch will not change the soil pH enough to measure."

I’m surprised that your soil pH is so high. Most soils in our area have a pH in the 5 range. Make sure you haven’t added anything to your soil that may have increased the pH. Do you know the history of the location the blueberries are planted? Maybe the soil was amended with lime in the past and the pH is still high.

With high pH soil blueberry leaves will appear light green with dark green veins. This is called iron chlorosis and is due to the plant’s inability to take up iron at the higher pH. The leaves on your plants look fine.

Also, rabbiteye blueberries are more tolerant of high pH, so I think you can still have success. I have read of others having good luck with rabbiteyes in neutral soil pH like yours.

If you had your soil tested by the NC Dept. of Ag. and let them know that you are growing blueberries, your report should have a suggestion on how to raise the soil pH. Here’s what my soil test report from 2018 said:

“It is difficult to lower soil pH to existing
blueberry plants; use of elemental sulfur (90% S) and ammonium fertilizer sources can be of benefit. Use proper safety handling instructions for use of elemental S; avoid breathing dust
and eye contact. Wash any S or fertilizer off plants to avoid burn. A rate of 5 lb per 1,000 sq ft of S will typically lower pH by 1 unit (6.0 to 5.0) for sandy soils; double the rate for clay soils.” I followed this advice, but haven’t retested the soil pH. I plan to this fall.

My suggestion is to play it safe and lower the soil pH. Apply sulfur at the rate suggested above or as in your report if different. Do this as soon as possible because it will take many months for the drop in pH. I would test your soil again in the spring to see where it’s at then. Soil tests are free in NC between April and November.

I would measure the pH of your water and adjust it down, if needed, as suggest by others. Be careful when using strong acids!

Rainwater has a pH in the 5 range, so you might consider setting up a rain-barrel to collect water for your blueberry plants if your supply water pH is high. I had success with this when I lived in Illinois.

Use ammonium fertilizer as suggest in the soil test report and by others above.

I wouldn’t let the plants produce fruit next year. Let them put energy into growth. I have experimented with this in the past and have confirmed that the plants will grow much faster if not allowed to fruit when small. My experience has been that the plants put growth on hold when developing fruit and then return to growing again after harvest.

It has been several weeks since you first posted this topic. How are the plants doing now?

1 Like

@BerryGuy, thanks for checking in! I planted them near an area with pines and azaleas thinking the soil would be plenty acidic there. It was one of the first beds in the yard, and upon digging, I was surprised the soil was rockier than other parts of my yard, with much less clay.
This week, I got the soil test results back and had tested most of the garden plots in the yard. It looked like the areas with clay tended to be more acidic. It seems like my hunch about the pines and azaleas being more acidic soil wasn’t correct in this case.
I’ve been watering with vinegar water, per @Fusion_power 's advice on here. I will add the sulfur soon, but wanted to wait until the temperatures go down a bit. So far, there has not been much of a change.
Next year, I will take your advice about not letting them bear fruit. Is it best to just trim the flowers or wait until fruit set?

The problem was mulching with peat moss which tends to raise PH over time. Pine needles don’t raise PH.

Sorry for not responding earlier with my prior post. I was off the grid in the mountains for a few days to escape the hot weather. :grinning:

Since you have lower pH locations on your property it might be easier to just move the plants this winter and avoid the whole adjusting the pH problem.

If that’s not an option for you, add the sulfur as soon as possible for two reasons. First is that the sulfur is converted into sulfuric acid by soil bacteria. This process takes many months and will slow or stop during the winter, so you need to get it started soon. Second is that your plants are already in the ground which means that you can’t work the sulfur into the soil without disturbing the roots. You’ll need to spread it over the planting area and let it slowly work its way into the soil with watering and rain.

As far as not allowing fruit next year, just pull off the flowers as they form. Fast and easy.

Some good advice but I wanted to comment on vinegar. Acetic acid an organic acid easily breaks down by bacteria in two weeks. So pH returns to where it was quickly. In a container the hydrogen in the acid can combine with carbonates and be washed out of the soil but not with in ground plantings. So it can work in containers. Not so much in ground.


@Drew51 My thought process on watering with a lower pH water is that it buys time for the sulfur amendment to decrease the soil pH. Currently, the plants in question are surviving, but not thriving. And as @Fusion_power suggested, the lack of growth is probably due to high soil pH despite the leaves not showing signs of chlorosis. Do you think this is a reasonable plan going forward?

However, once the sulfur does it’s job it will be a long term battle to maintain that lower soil pH, especially if watering resumes with a higher pH water. Testing soil pH and additional sulfur applications will be necessary. This is why I suggested moving the plants to areas where the initial soil pH is lower.

On the other hand, @kdegs and I live in an area that receives a fair amount of rain each month, so watering really isn’t needed very often. So far this year I’ve only needed to water my blueberries once.

Yes I would use it. For the short term. But one could use battery acid and introduce sulfuric acid instantly.
With only a few infrequent waterings tap is fine.

This is a good suggestion, however, should be used with caution based on a soil test. I gardened for years in an old field that had been heavily fertilized with commercial fertilizers since the 1940’s. The result was accumulation of phosphorus in the soil to the point of being toxic. It took 10 years of gardening with only nitrogen and potassium fertilizers with NO potassium to get the soil levels back down to a normal range. So use phosphoric acid if a soil test indicates low to normal levels of phosphorus. If phosphorus is already too high, sulfur would be a better choice. Here is a link to an article that is worth reading. Keep in mind that blueberries do best with PH around 5.3 to 5.5. Crops do not use a large quantity of phosphorus, but what they do use is most important and the supply must be good

1 Like

@BerryGuy, Good to know! That is very helpful. I will add the sulfur when I can bring myself to work out there again. It’s been hard in the heat, as you probably know already! Hope the mountain trip was nice and cool.
We’re going to rework the whole bed for a number of reasons. It’s not an option to move them at this point, because like many people on here, I have crammed as many fruit trees and bushes in my yard as possible. In addition to the ph, I think not letting them fruit will help a lot. They had a lot of fruit for their size this year, and I’m sure it set them back.
@Drew51 good to know about the vinegar! When you say battery acid, are you actually burying your batteries?
@Fusion_power, Thanks for posting the article. For the soil test I just received, my apple bed came up low in phosphorus, I didn’t realize that was a way to balance it out.

Not sure what you mean? You can buy sulfuric acid at 30% (battery acid) at any auto parts store. NEVER ever use acid from a battery. It does not take much to turn tap water into very acidic water. Remember always add acid to water and never water to acid.
Start with 1 teaspoon and see where pH is. Shoot for 5.0. You must have a reliable way to measure pH. I use commercial test strips. I like the 4.0-7.0 range strips. . I no longer myself use battery acid as I collect about 350 gallons of rain water, well how much i can store. I always save it for blueberries when in drought. I use so much water it has saved me a lot of money. I have about 400 fruiting plants.
I still use battery acid to scarify rubus seeds I’m breeding. So I keep some around.

Once someone asks me about heavy metals in the acid. Well yes if taken from a battery! But battery acid must be pure, a battery can explode from the minerals in tap water. You must never add anything but battery acid or distilled water to batteries. If the unused acid had metal in it your battery would explode. I actually have a golf cart, electric. i add distilled water monthly. The batteries use a lot of water! Probably more because some are 7 years old (it holds six car size batteries). The newer batteries are less prone to evaporation. Three are less than 3 years old. Expensive too! The other three I need to replace soon. Anyway commercial acid needs to be fairly pure. It’s not as clean as food grade acid, but it’s certainly free of heavy metals. Else the makers would be sued out of business. The government sets the standards for acid purity needed.


@Drew51, wow, fascinating stuff. You know much more about batteries than I do! The reason I asked was because I misread your comment about the sulfuric acid being battery acid, and made my own conclusion that you were using old batteries, kind of like how some people recycle old sheetrock in the soil to add gypsum. You never know!
Do you simply add the sulfuric acid to the soil by watering it? Sorry for so many questions, I just want to know all my options for fixing the ph. We water our plants with rain water collected in a cistern that was mostly paid for by our county soil and water department. I should check the ph on it.
Thanks for the advice!

Well you add it to water to dilute it to the pH level you need. Then use that water to water your plants. The plant needs it’s root area to be the proper pH. So you water your plant with it. Estimate where the root zone is depending on the age of your plant. If you set tap water to 5.0 with fresh unused battery acid, which is a 30% solution of sulfuric acid, the other 70% is distilled water. Anyway if you use that water at 5.0 it is just like rainwater. Rainwater contains that much sulfuric acid. It’s a small amount so you have to be careful not to kill your plant. Make sure your pH readings are spot on.
So you are using rainwater, good. You don’t really add acid to water to change the soil pH for long term. It will not work. Just enough so the plant can absorb nutrients. Sulfur fails too unless you use it on a regular basis. We have had acid rain for 10 thousand years and the soil is still basic. One needs to start with acidic soil in the first place and somehow be isolated from the basic soil. A raised bed works. Well you need to eventually adjust pH in the beds too. I’m at that point myself. My beds are 7 years old and starting to increase in pH from the accumulated organic matter. I add sulfur about once every 2 years. I may need to increase that with time. The blueberry comes from areas with acidic clay that never goes away so the soil has a low pH at all times.
Sulfur is the easiest way to try and control soil pH. I suggest though not watering with tap as you are losing ground even faster that way. Use rainwater or water at a pH of 5.0. Do not poor basic water in the root zone of your blueberry plants. Once in awhile is OK, yes the plant can absorb the water and not die, but it cannot absorb nutrition in that environment. Why the leaves turn red.Cold can make leaves red too, but in the summer, the leaves should be green. From light to dark depending on the cultivar.

Here is a photo of Cara’s Choice. It is a deep green, even blue in color. Notice the lighter colored leaves. that is new growth (always a good sign). This plant is in a 20 gallon root pouch, which is a fabric bag. Planted in 2-1-1/2 Pine, peat, DE An example of a plant in fairly good health.

Toro blueberry. It has more rounded leaves, in very good health. In a raised bed 4x4x1 with the same soil mix as the root pouch. Both photos taken 07 18 2020

Why all this effort?


Rain is much more acidic now than in the past as a result of industrial pollution. So much more acidic that forests in the Northeast U.S. were damaged by it in the 1970’s and 1980’s before stringent pollution controls brought the acid levels back down. Soils that overlay limestone tend to be naturally high PH. This is true of large areas of Tennessee and Kentucky.

My rain has not changed pH for 30 years. It often today is below 5.0. Seems more acidic than ever to me. I do agree reduction has occurred, and it was not always this low. Still it takes decades to change the soil. Which will change eventually. Our rain is about 4.8 here. It is above 5.0 in the west, not here. My local soil is 6.5 and remains there. Clay loam, it’s not changing. The kind of clay that is basic. In areas of heavy clay it is a lot higher. We have just a touch. It is excellent soil, everything will grow in it except blueberries. The soil is a nice black color.

@Drew51, these really look incredible! I added some of the Espona brand acidifier, and will keep watering with the vinegar. We’re going to build some kind of raised bed for them this fall and replant them too. I’m sure I’m late to the game this year, but I’ll repost next spring with updates on the growth. Thanks for the suggestions!


Yes good luck! We are all learning. This is my 7th year of growing them. It took about that long to get it down. It was worth the wait. I’m going out right now to pick about 4 cups of berries. A lot are ripe on my plants and I didn’t pick yesterday. I let them hang, nice and ripe berries. One plant is just starting to ripen. Legacy. The berries are piling up on me, I have to give some away. I have 10 cups in the fridge. A decent shelf life too, blueberries rock!

1 Like

Sounds like a good plan! Make sure you wait on the replanting part until they are dormant. That way the’re not stressed with trying to adjust this fall when they would normally be preparing for dormancy. Let them go to sleep in the ground and wake up in their new, more comfy, beds.

So if I am planting some new rabbit eyes, what should I mix in the soil to give them the best shot? Just sulphur mixed in well? Do they sell a sulphur product at the big box stores that will suffice? I’m only planning on two plants.


@LordRatner You should definitely get a ph tester. I have made mistakes but my plants now have new growth. Below is a link to the shenanigans I have been experiencing. Even using a full cup of battery acid, my ph still only settled at 6.0.