Blueberries are easy to grow

A single blueberry bush can produce 4-7kg of fruit in a season.
A single blueberry bush can produce 4-7kg of fruit in a season. Erin Wilkins

WE often think of blueberries as a cool climate fruit but in fact, it's easy to grow in various climates.

Just make sure you choose low chill varieties, and get the position just right.

Blueberries are self-pollinating, long-lived shrubs reaching a height of 1-2.5m, depending on the variety and growing conditions.

The bright green leaves darken as they age and are small, oval-shaped, about 1-2cm long.

Flowers occur at the tips of the branches and are followed by bunches of small blue fruit that may have a bit of a waxy bloom.

A single blueberry bush can produce 4-7kg of fruit in a season, depending on variety and growing conditions.

The fruiting season is July-April, with peak production from November to January.

Blueberries can be a bit fussy.

They are related to rhododendrons, and share a love of moist, well-drained acidic soil with plenty of organic matter.

The ideal soil pH is 4.5-5.0. Outside of this range, they will struggle; growth will be weak and spindly and fruit production will be poor.

So test your soil first, and add sulphur powder to lower pH if necessary. Never use lime or dolomite around blueberry bushes.

The low chill varieties suitable for our climate prefer a warm, frost-free situation.

Good air circulation will help to prevent fungal problems.

Their fine, shallow roots make the plants especially sensitive to soil compaction, poor drainage, and root disturbance.

Protect the root zone with a thick layer of organic mulch.

Blueberries grow well in pots. Use a potting mix formulated for azaleas and camellias as this will be more acidic than a normal potting mix.

Mulch the surface of the pot, just as you would if you were planting in the ground.

You will also need to be a bit careful about fertilising as you don't want to raise the soil pH.

Fortnightly applications of liquid fish or seaweed fertilisers will be beneficial.

Because the flowers form at the ends of the shoots, you need to encourage growth of plenty of vigorous shoots.

Pruning is also beneficial, and is best done in early spring.

Remove damaged branches and spindly growth. Young bushes don't require much pruning.

Some experts suggest the removal of flowers for the first two years to allow the plant to concentrate on growing strong rather than spending all its energy producing a few fruit.

Good varieties for our climate include Britewell, Biloxi, Sharpes Blue and Misty.

The reason blueberries are so expensive is because they are labour intensive to pick.

Harvesting is done by hand, and not all fruit ripen at the same time, so each bush needs to be revisited several times during harvesting.

The soft fruit are fairly delicate and need careful handling. They have a relatively short shelf life.

I recommend the 'pick and eat' method for blueberries and raspberries - pick them and eat them, right there, in the garden. Don't even bother taking them into the kitchen.

Freshly picked blueberries are absolutely delicious, and more research is emerging which confirms their status as a superfood.

They have plenty of fibre, virtually no fat, loads of vitamins A, C and K , are high in antioxidants, and contain calcium, potassium and zinc.

And you can grow all of that in your own backyard.


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Topics:  blueberries fruit gardening lifestyle plants

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