Growing Blueberries

Blueberries are ericaceous (lime-hating) plants.  They belong to the genus Vaccinium which also includes cranberries and bilberries.

Blueberries cannot be neglected, but they are certainly worth the effort and a well grown mature plant will produce more than 5 lbs of fruit per plant.

Planting

In the New Forest many (but not all) of us will have suitable soil for growing blueberries in the open ground.  If you successfully grow rhododendrons and camellias then it is likely your soil is suitable for blueberries.  They must have a pH lower than pH5.5.  Check your soil pH with a kit or pH meter.

If your soil is slightly above pH5.5 you can acidify by adding ferrous sulphate (or Vitax Yellow Sulphur).  This works by soil organisms converting it therefore it is best applied when the soil is warm.   To be effective it needs to be applied at least two months before planting your blueberries.

As important as the acidity is that the soil is light and free draining.  The blueberries’ roots cannot cope with high clay content.  Dig in some grit and light organic matter (leaf-mould is good) prior to planting.

Choose an open sheltered sunny spot.  Blueberries are self-fertile but they produce better crops if they are planted close to two or preferably three different varieties.

Recommended varieties

Early Season ‘Draper’, Mid season  ‘Bluecrop’,  Late season ‘Aurora’

Planting in raised containers or raised beds

Many people choose to grow their blueberries this way as you can control the soil conditions.  We recommend using John Innes ericaceous potting compost mixed with grit and leaf mould. Blueberries flower attractively in the spring and the fruit ripens in late summer/autumn.

After all the effort of growing your blueberries it is important to remember to protect the plants from birds when they are fruiting.  Use netting or horticultural fleece to keep the birds off.

Feeding

Apply a top dressing of Sulphate of Ammonia in the spring to bushes grown in the ground.  Feed pot specimens monthly with Miracle-Grow Azalea, Camellia and Rhododendron liquid feed.    Blueberries are sensitive to overfeeding.  Water well after feeding to flush away any salts building up around the fine roots.

Tip – water with rain water from your water butt.  Tap water will contain traces of lime.

 Mulch with composted pine needles, bracken, leaf mould or grass clippings.  These are slightly acidic materials but their main role will be to prevent the blueberries’ fine- fibrous roots from drying out.  Keep your blueberries permanently moist in the growing season.  Conversely make sure that they do not sit soggy in the winter.

Tip – it is a good idea to move pots under cover in winter so they do not get soggy with winter rain.

Pruning

Is not needed until 3 years old.  From there after it is simply a case of removing about a third of the old wood each winter.

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