With delicious fruit, pretty flowers and fantastic autumn colour, blueberries make surprisingly good garden plants
At a glance...
Botanical name: Vaccinium corymbosum (some blueberry varieties are hybrids with other species too)
Origins: Also known as the northern highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum is a North American native that has naturalised in Europe, Japan and New Zealand
First cultivated: Elizabeth White (daughter of a New Jersey farmer) and botanist Frederick Coville harvested and sold the first commercial crop of blueberries out of Whitesbog, New Jersey in 1916
Types: Popular varieties to grow in the UK include ‘Aurora’, ‘Draper’, Duke’ and ‘Bluecrop’
Skill level: Blueberries are easy to grow provided the right conditions are maintained
Preferred location and conditions: The plants need moist, well-drained, acidic soil in a sunny and sheltered spot
Good for containers: Yes - use ericaceous compost
Harvest time: July to September
Planting and growing: The soil needs to be pH 5.5 or lower, and watered regularly. Plant in the autumn and winter and mulch in the spring (they love chopped up pine needles so this is a great way to recycle your Christmas tree!). Blueberries may take a few years to reach their full fruiting potential so don’t be disheartened if you only have a couple of berries in the first year.
Possible problems: Birds sometimes eat the fruits, buds and leaves, so use netting to protect the plants when necessary.
Did you know?
Many hundreds of years ago, the Native Americans recognised the health benefits and versatility of blueberries, gathering the wild fruit from the forests and bogs. They revered the fruit, calling them ‘star berries’ because of the shape of the calyx, which forms a five-pointed star. Tribal elders told stories of how the Great Spirit sent them ‘star berries’ to appease their children’s hunger during times of famine.
Blueberries make an excellent natural dye, and early American colonists even made grey paint by boiling blueberries in milk!
After Coville and White harvested and sold the first blueberries in New Jersey in 1916, ‘blueberry fever’ swept the region and by the early 1960s, 200,000 seedlings had spread across 13 states. Health researchers began to explore the antioxidant activity in blueberries in the 1990s and since acquiring ‘superfood’ status in the 2000s, their global popularity has soared.
Blueberries are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They’re an excellent source of vitamin C which can boost the immune system and help with the absorption of iron. They contain iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K which all contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength. Studies have also shown that blueberries can help prevent Alzheimer’s, lower the risk of heart disease, boost brain power, combat high blood pressure and even stimulate hair growth!
Blueberries are an excellent choice for a post-Christmas detox as they have a high soluble fibre content and are rich in detoxifying antioxidants which are crucial for maintaining a healthy liver. Add a handful of blueberries to a breakfast smoothie to get your body back in shape if you’ve over-indulged over the festive period, and to give your immune system a welcome boost during the winter months.
The plants make a wonderful ornamental feature in the garden with their delicate, bell-shaped flowers and glorious autumn colours. The variety ‘Pink Sapphire’ is particularly striking with its bright pink berries.
Blueberries are costly to buy from the supermarket so it makes sense to grow your own for a summer-long harvest, and they freeze really well; by putting in a little effort initially to establish the correct conditions for the plants, you can enjoy these health-boosting berries throughout the year at a fraction of the cost.
Text provided by Mr Fothergill's.
RHS Grow Your Own
RHS advice: How to grow blueberries