Blueberries

Not only are blueberries productive, their glorious autumn colours provide ornamental appeal. The fruit is delicious and high in antioxidants. Shrubs can be grown in the garden border or as attractive container plants.

Blueberries

Grow

Blueberries are relatively easy to look after. Keep the compost or soil moist, but not soaking wet. Don’t allow it to dry out between waterings. Water plants with rainwater, not tap water, unless you have no alternative in a drought. Tap water will raise the pH level and blueberries like acidic conditions.

Ensure the soil stays at pH of 5.5 or lower, to avoid problems. Check the pH of the soil in spring and add sulphur chips if it needs lowering. This shouldn’t be necessary with container-grown plants provided ericaceous fertiliser and rainwater are used.

Feed container plants every month using a liquid fertiliser formulated for ericaceous (lime-hating) plants, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

You may find open ground plants don't need feeding apart from the annual ericaceous mulch and a high nitrogen feed such as sulphate of ammonia in late winter. Blueberries are sensitive to overfeeding.

Pruning is rarely needed in the first two years. After that you should prune in late February to early March. Once you start pruning, you should aim to remove a quarter of old wood at the base every year to keep the plant productive.

In colder regions, many cultivars will need winter protection.  In spring, flowers may need some fleece protection if frost threatens.

Read more about pruning and growing blueberries

Plant

Plant in a moist, well-drained, acidic soil. Blueberries prefer light soils rather than heavy clays. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot. While blueberries are tolerant of shade, better crops (and autumn colour) are obtained in the sun.

Blueberries are very fussy about soil acidity. They will not grow well if planted in alkaline soil. Soil acidity can be measured by a pH testing kit. You can buy these from most garden centres. The pH of your soil needs to be pH 5.5 or lower for blueberries to thrive. If your soil is marginally higher than this, you can try lowering the pH by adding sulphur chips well in advance of planting.

If your pH is higher you’ll be best to plant blueberries in a container. Container cultivation is often best if your soil is a heavy clay too.

If growing blueberries in garden soil, add plenty of bulky, acidic organic matter such as pine needles, leafmould or composted conifer clippings. Avoid well-rotted farmyard manure as this is too rich and alkaline.

While some blueberry cultivars can produce a good crop on their own, all yield much more heavily if planted near another, different cultivar. Check the labels on the plants when you buy.

Growing in containers

If growing in a container, choose one that is at least 30cm (12in) in diameter for young plants, then move into a 45-50cm (18-20in) container when it outgrows the first one.

Select a compact cultivar for pot cultivation.

When planting, place a crock (small piece of broken clay pot, or polystyrene) across the drainage hole to retain the compost. Select an ericaceous compost. You can buy this at most garden centres.

Find out more about growing fruit in containers

Common problems

Birds

Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.

Remedy: Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.

More info on Birds

Powdery Mildew

Powdery Mildew: Appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel.

Remedy: Keep the soil moist and grow in cooler locations.

More info on Powdery Mildew

Aphids

Aphids: Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.

Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.

More info on Aphids

Harvesting

Fruits start to ripen from mid-summer onwards, changing colour from green to dusty blue. At this point they can be harvested.

Pick over the plants several times as not all the fruit ripens at the once.

Berries can be eaten fresh; alternatively, they can be dried, frozen, made into preserves, or used in cooking. They are extremely rich in antioxidants and vitamins (especially vitamin C) so have many health benefits.

Varieties

‘Tophat’:A self-fertile, heavy-cropping dwarf blueberry. Mature plants attain a height and spread of only 60cm (2ft). The medium-sized berries have a very good flavour. It has an attractive autumn colour.

‘Duke’ AGM:Stocky bushes produce good yields of medium to large fruit of excellent flavour. ‘Duke’ flowers late but crops early so is especially good for northern areas where the growing season is short. It is partly self-fertile.

‘Spartan’ AGM:Very hardy, early- to mid-season ‘Spartan’ bears large fruits with a sweet, tangy flavour. To crop well, this cultivar needs another blueberry cultivar nearby.

‘Nelson:A mid- to late-season cultivar that is very hardy and self-fertile. The large fruits and good flavour make it useful for the home fruit garden.


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