Saturday, 24 July 2010

Growing Blueberries


  • Highbush Blueberries, Vaccinium corybosum, taste delicious whether eaten fresh or cooked. 
  • The bushes can be evergreen or deciduous and usually grow to about 1.5m high. 
  • They do well in pots and you can get a reasonable crop whatever the size of your garden.
  • Your climate dictates the type of blueberries you can grow.
  • In the USA, where they originate, the suitable types are well established.
  • In Europe, China, India and other countries seeking to introduce this plant, the most suitable types have to be considered against the local climate.
  • In Great Britain the Highbush type has proven to be very successful, and in Scotland the Lowbush varieties may also be a success.
  • In Scandinavian countries the lowbush type is most appropriate, but on the west coast of Norway where the Gulf Stream provides a milder winter, then the Highbush varieties will be suitable.
  • Other areas have to experiment with what is most suitable for their local climate.
  • All types of blueberries grow best in full sun. Plants tolerate partial shade, but production declines as shade increases. 
  • Blueberries are shallow rooted and poor competitors against large rooted trees, shrubs, and weeds that compete for water, nutrients, and crowd airways necessary to good blueberry production.
  • The most important element is growing blueberries is soil composition. To make the most of your blueberry planting, begin necessary soil amendments the year before planting. 
  • Blueberries grow best in loose, sandy loam. Although you may run across wild blueberries growing in a bog, on closer inspection you’ll see that plants grow on small, natural hills.
  • Blueberries need moisture retentive, well-drained, humus-rich soil with good aeration. 
  • Soil acidity is also very important in growing blueberries. Plants need a pH of 4.0 to no more than 5.0 to thrive. 
  • Monitor the soil's pH every few years, because it may be necessary to add acid. 
  • It's possible to lower the pH levels of your soil with sulfur chips or dust. However, they'll need to be added three weeks before planting to take effect.
  • If you don't have suitable soil, simply dig a hole 50cm (19") square and deep and fill with ericaceous compost.
  • Alternatively, simply grow blueberries in a pot containing ericaceous compost.
  • Plant at least two different varieties of blueberries to ensure cross-pollination. 
  • A single blueberry plant will produce fruit, but the yields will be higher and the fruits bigger if more than one plant is grown. 
  • Plant blueberries in autumn or winter leaving about 1.5m (5ft) gaps between them and mulch with a layer of acidic peat, wood chippings or pine needles. 
  • Water in well using rainwater rather than tap water if possible. Tap water contains lime which renders the soil less acidic over time.
  • Use nets to protect plants from birds in the fruiting season.
  • Give the plants a high potash feed (such as tomato feed) occasionally during the growing season.
  • In Europe there are many specialist berry and fruit fertilizers being marketed, as long as they show a high potash percentage, compared with Nitrogen and Phosphoros, then they are suitable.
  • Water plants regularly.
  •  They require water from when their buds begin to show in spring until their leaves fall in autumn. 
  • Again, remember to use rainwater.
  • Blueberries produce fruit on branches that were produced the previous year. 
  • For the first two or three years of a blueberry's life it's not necessary to prune it much, apart from keeping the plant tidy. 
  • After this, blueberries need regular pruning to maintain plant vigour and high quality berry production. 
  • Prune them between November and March when the plant is dormant.
  • When pruning, take out any dead, dying and diseased wood. 
  • Locate the oldest canes and remove one or two at the base each year. 
  • Remove the old canes that don't produce much fruit to make way for younger, more productive canes.
  • Prune out low branches that will lie on the ground when laden with fruit and remove all twiggy wood on the ends of fruiting laterals.
  • Mulch each spring. Chipped up pine tree or pine needles are ideal mulches to place around plants because they're fairly acidic.
  • Blueberry fruits, which are borne in clusters, ripen at different times. This could mean having to regularly pick the same bush over the ripening period.
  • Fruits are ready to pick when they have turned a deep blue. 
  • The fruit should easily pull away from the cluster when ripe. 
  • However, leave them on the bush for a few more days after they turn blue for a more intense and complex flavour. 
  • They must be picked or they'll drop.

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