Blueberries are one of the world’s healthiest fruits. They are one of the richest sources of anti-oxidants there are; these are contained in Anthocyanins which are beneficial to blood circulation and small veins in particular. This explains why blueberries are reported to have anti-aging effects, improve eyesight (especially night vision) and are generally helpful with conditions such as arthritis, water retention, varicose veins and digestive issues. They are also supposed to be cancer-fighters. Blueberries are at their tastiest and their healthiest when eaten freshly picked, and nothing is fresher than the blueberry you grow yourself, pick yourself and eat yourself. Here are twelve top tips to successful blueberry growing.
Buy your plants from a reputable supplier and unpack and check them straight away to be sure they they are exactly what you ordered and have arrived in the condition you’d expect. Assuming they look good, stand the plants, in their pots, in rainwater until they are sodden – a lesson to learn with blueberries is that they like it wet.
Plant them as soon as you can but if their bed is not ready (or the soil can’t be worked) then stand your blueberries somewhere sheltered, where there is plenty of light and where the roots won’t freeze. Keep them moist using rainwater if you can.
Blueberries like being sheltered so try to steer away from particularly cold or windy parts of the garden. They do best in full sun, but you can still get good yields in semi or light shade. They need acid soil conditions to do well – and they hate lime. The ideal soil drains well but holds moisture. Where your soil is over chalk or in any way alkaline you should grow blueberries in tubs or boxes – see below. The thing with blueberry plants is to remember that they belong to the heather family and need the same growing and soil conditions to do thrive.
Where you have acid soil, prepare it really well. Start by killing and removing any perennial weeds – they are easier to get rid of now than later. Then make a 3ft (90cm) square hole for each plant, mixing the topsoil 50:50 with acid moss peat. If the soil is heavy and liable to puddle improve the drainage now and mix in plenty of sharp sand or grit. Make sure anything you put in the soil is lime free and (ideally) acidic.
Plant blueberry bushes 4ft 6 inches (150 cms) apart. Settle the plants in so the soil level in the pot will end up just below the finished soil level in the bed. Back-fille with the soil/peat mix and firm the soil around the plants using the ball of your foot. Don’t stamp, but be firm. Then water the bed really well with rainwater and finish off the planting by putting down a good layer of mulch of moss peat, wood chippings or shredded bark.
Never let blueberries dry out – they are native to wet ground and suffer terribly if they are short of water. Use rainwater if possible but, tap water is much better than nothing. Remember to keep the bed free from weeds.
A bit like asparagus blueberries crop more heavily each year. The plants sucker under ground and low branches can layer as well, so you end up with an enormously fruitful thicket. However, as with many plants, blueberries produce more fruit in the long term if they are not allowed to berry for a year after planting. This is most easily done in the winter by rubbing out any fruit buds (the fat ones).
Each year in March give your plants a boost with a lime-free compound fertiliser (always follow the instructions on the packet). If your plants struggled the year before and grew less than 12 inches (30cms) – maybe they dried out, or were slow to settle in – apply 1/2 oz per sq. yd (17g per sq m) of sulphate of ammonia. Then, with the thoughts of moisture and acidity uppermost in your mind, give your plants a good mulch of peat, rotten woodchip or sawdust in the spring when the ground is still wet.
Birds, like humans recognise the nutritional value of blueberries and if you want to eat any berries yourself- which of course, you do – you will need to cover the plants with bird netting. When they are soft, a bluish-black, come off the stalks with a gentle pull, they are ripe. One of the joys of blueberries is that they do not ripen all at once, so you can pick your patch again and again over a two month period with a variety like Chandler.
In the first two winters after planting remove any diseased or damaged shoots and any weak shoots lying on the ground. In subsequent years prune as if they were blackcurrants, but also cut out about 20% of oldest shoots at ground level to make space for new growth.
Really the only drawback of blueberries is their hatred of alkaline (chalk/lime) soils. In those parts of the country where these prevail, grow your plants in containers. Blueberries are great container specimens as, apart from their fruit, they have lovely flowers and the foliage colours up well in the autumn. Use tubs, barrels or large pots that will all provide room for the plants to grow (remember a full grown blueberry can be up to 6 feet tall in open ground. Pot up your plants, one to a container, using an acidic compost (many garden centres sell ericaceous compost which is ideal) or pure moss peat. As the plants get bigger, they may need to go into larger containers. Do this in late autumn or early spring.
Water with rainwater if you can and make sure you never let them dry out. If you are going to make a mistake, let it be overwatering! When container grown plants are in full growth, feed them every 2-3 weeks with an acid-loving (ericaceous) plant feed.
And then, beginning in June, you can start eating the healthiest fruit there is; fresh blueberries from your own garden.
How to Grow Blueberries at Home by Julian Bosdari is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.