Blueberries are delicious and they don’t come cheap from the shops which makes giving them a go in your garden all the more worthwhile. With one of the highest antioxidant contents of all fruits and vegetables these rounded dark blue berries are a healthy addition to muesli, pancakes, muffins cakes and puddings. Blueberries are very versatile - eat them fresh, preserve them or freeze them. Blueberries grow on shrubs that can be planted in small groups or in rows as a hedge. They can also be grown in containers where space is limited. Plants grow to about waist height and about a full stride from side to side. Thanks to tolerance of cold weather they can be grown and enjoyed countrywide. Summer foliage is an attractive bluish grey and in autumn the leaves turn brilliant reds, yellows and oranges before they fall.
Blueberries can produce fruit on their own but pollination and fruit production are greatly improved when several plants are grown together.
Companions Basil, thyme
Quantity 3 plants per household.
With the right range of varieties in your garden you could be harvesting fresh blueberries daily from November through to April
O’Neal tall and spreading plant growing to around head height. Good for warmer areas as it forms flower buds without needing chilly days in winter. Berries ripen between November and January. Plant with ‘Summer Blue’ to aid pollination.
Blue Dawn for an early harvest starting in December and running though to February. Plants can grow to head height and a bit more. Plant with ‘Blue Magic’ to aid pollination.
Blue Magic early harvest starting in December. Plants can grow to head height and a bit more. Plant with “Blue Dawn’ to aid pollination.
Muffin a compact, cold climate variety that needs chilly winter temperatures to form flower buds. Heavy cropper with medium sized berries. Plant with ‘Jersey’ to aid pollination. Grows to about knee height and is keen on acidic soil. Berries are produced in December and then a second crop comes in March.
Jersey grows into a tall upright plant over head high. Heavy cropper produces fruit between December and February. Plant with Muffin to aid pollination.
Powder Blue tall and upright plants growing to around head height. Large crop of light blue berries that store well. Good for growing in all areas. Grow with ‘Blue Dawn’ or ‘Blue Magic’to aid pollination.
Summer Blue tall upright plant growing to around head height. Grows well in warmer areas. Has two harvests – one in December and another around March. Plant with ‘O’Neal’ to aid pollination.
Plant container grown plants year round.
Plant blueberries in full sun – though they will tolerate some partial afternoon shade. They can handle windy locations as well as winter cold.
Blueberries are great in containers such as half barrels. This means you can put them in your sunniest spot – say on a deck or terrace - if your veg garden doesn’t happen to be big on suntraps.
Blueberries are only particular about the soil they are grown in. For best results they need a rich, moist soil that doesn’t get water-logged. Soil should be slightly acidic – so look for lots of organic material as an indicator. If your soil is sandy or slightly sticky then you’ll need to add peat and well-rotted compost at the time of planting and continue to mulch with rich compost and pine needles as your plants get established. You can always grow blueberries in a raised bed filled with peat and well-rotted organic compost if you have a sticky clay soil.
Soak plants in water before planting them.
Prepare the planting area. Soil should be weed-free and well dug through to at least a full spade’s depth. Add well-rotted compost and peat if necessary and mix with surrounding garden soil. Carefully remove blueberry plants from containers by turning them upside down and holding the plant across the base of its stem with a spread hand. Tap the bottom of the container until the plant and its root ball come loose. Handle plants by the root ball to prevent damage to stems and shallow roots. Place blueberry plant in a hole that is just larger than the container it came in. Back fill around root ball making sure there are no air pockets. Water well and mulch with a finger-thick layer of peat, pine needles, shredded bark or untreated sawdust.
If planting in a container ensure it is large enough. Half barrels look good with blueberries and they are the right size too. Use a rich compost with peat in it and plenty of organic material. Add slow release granules or sheep pellets before planting. When blueberries are grown in containers they should be constantly monitored to ensure soil is moist – particularly in dry weather.
Keep plants weed free and maintain constant moisture levels – this is especially important in the weeks during which the berries swell and ripen. In the first year you can rub all flowers off so that plants put their energy into producing strong roots.
Feed: Depending on how well you have composted the ground you might want to give your developing plants an extra boost with some liquid seaweed or worm juice every 4 to 6 weeks. If you maintain a nutrient rich layer of mulch around their base this should give them all they need in the first few years as they become established. The same goes for container grown plants although you may need to feed them a sprinkling of blood and bone meal in early spring.
Flowering: Blueberries flower in spring, they are mostly pollinated by bees. Having more than one plant of the same variety will greatly improve the yield of your plants and size of fruit.
Fruit are formed between early summer and autumn depending on variety. Berries turn from green to pink to dusty dark blue. – which is their ripe colour. They should be sweet within about seven days of turning blue. Probably best to keep trying every few days until the flavour is fully sweet and juicy. Young plants can produce around 200grams of fruit in the first year and this weight should double with every year until plants are fully grown and can produce anything from 3 kg to 10kg of fruit in a season. Keep picking to encourage more fruit to ripen.
Storage: Blueberries should not be washed before storing as this will cause them to rot. Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. To freeze, pop freshly-picked, unwashed berries on a plate or tray in the freezer. When they have frozen add them to a bag. Repeat this process over a period of time until you have frozen and stored all you want.
Pruning is kept to a minimum with dead, diseased and crossing stems that are rubbing each other being removed. Thin spindly stems are also cut back. You can prune your plants to improve their shape any time but save hard pruning for mid winter to early when plants are dormant and soon to generate new growth. After about 5 years one third of the oldest stems are removed at the base of the plant to stimulate production of fresh new fruiting stems.
Blueberries are relatively trouble free if given the right growing conditions. Aphids may have a go at them as well as leaf roller caterpillars. Leaf roller caterpillars attack the buds at the growing tip of stems, parasitic wasps parasitize the larvae so try and encourage them by avoid use of chemical sprays. You can buy organic sprays to treat any major infestations. Birds are an issue as soon as fruit start to ripen so protect your plants with mesh.