Blueberries Growing Guide
Blueberries Growing Guide
In recent years the sweetly flavoured blueberry has gained a reputation as a ‘super food’ thanks to widespread recognition of the fruit’s health benefits. They are certainly full of antitoxins, including large quantities of vitamin C, making this a fruit crop that’s well worth considering. Unlike other common garden fruits, however, the blueberry is such an attractive plant it merits a position in the shrub border or within a pot for pride of place on the patio, freeing up the kitchen garden or allotment for other, less showy crops.
Blueberries love an acidic soil but if you can’t provide this they are very straightforward to grow in containers or raised beds, where the soil conditions can be specially formulated for this productive plant to thrive. Many can grow up to 2m tall and almost as wide but there are also smaller varieties available, which mean anyone can try these tasty berries no matter how small their plot.
In late spring the bushes kick off their year-long display with scented flowers followed closely by the swelling berries which progress from green to their distinctive dusty blue. In autumn the leaves take on a brilliant red hue before dropping, and throughout the winter young stems radiate out an orange-red colour. Most varieties have a growing habit that tends towards upright, freeing up space beneath bushes for planting other acid-loving fruits such as cranberries and lingonberries.
After a few years new bushes will be approaching a very respectable yield, saving you considerable sums of money on the heavy cost of shop-bought berries. Few other plants combine good looks with such an abundance of fruit.
Growing Blueberries month-by-month
Plant new specimens throughout the winter months. Refirm any new plants that many have been lifted by the frosts.
Finish pruning plants this month. Aim for a balance of stem ages so bushes will always be productive – fruits are formed on the previous summer's wood.
Try to get plants in the ground before they set into growth. Apply a thick mulch to lock in moisture and begin feeding plants with an ericaceous fertiliser.
Bushes will be in full leaf this month. Keep young plants watered, applying generous quantities once or twice a week.
Net plants as soon as they begin to form berries to keep birds away from the fruits. Water with rain water – tap water contains lime and will leave the soil less acidic.
Check that netting is secure to avoid birds getting trapped. Pick off all but a handful of fruit on new plants so they can concentrate on establishing.
Begin harvesting the ripe fruits as soon as they turn completely blue and no traces of pink or green are left.
Continue picking fruits. By choosing more than one variety you will ensure a longer cropping season. New stems will form at the base of the bushes to produce more fruit next year.
Regularly check over bushes seeking out any ripe fruits you may have missed. Freeze any excess. The fruit also makes a delicious jam. New stems will be well formed this month.
Remove the bird netting covering your plants. Prepare growing areas for blueberry bushes you will be planting out later in the year.
This is the peak month for eye-catching autumn leaf colour – plants will become a brilliant red, especially if planted in full sun, so be sure to enjoy this fleeting display.
Set new plants into position having first prepared the planting holes thoroughly. Prune out any old, unproductive wood from your older blueberry bushes.
How to harvest Blueberries
While plants are establishing it is a good idea to allow just a handful of berries to grow to maturity; remove the rest before they have a chance to swell so that the majority of the bush’s energy goes into root and stem formation. From the second year plants can be left to form their fruit unhindered. By the time plants are five years old – perhaps two or three years after planting – you’ll be picking up to 2kg of fruit per bush. Fully mature bushes of the most productive varieties in open ground will yield up to an impressive 5kg of fruit each summer.
Berries can be picked when they have turned completely blue – a good indication that fruits are ripe and any sourness in the immature berries has disappeared. Not all the fruits ripen at the same time, so pick over plants several times from midsummer to autumn. Enjoy the berries fresh or store them in the fridge for up to a week. They can also be frozen, needing no preparation beforehand – simply place the ripe berries straight into freezer bags