What you need to know about blueberries
Name: Blueberries, Vaccinium sp.
Height: typically 1–2m, depending on variety
Foliage: deciduous or evergreen, depending on variety and climate.
Climate: suitable for most climates, including cold temperate, warm temperate, arid/semi-arid and sub-tropical climates. Some varieties are better suited to warmer areas than others, due to lower chill requirements (less cold days required to set fruit).
Soil: blueberries need good drainage and prefer a soil enriched with compost and decomposed manure. Blueberries need an acidic soil to thrive, preferring a soil pH of around 4–5.
Position: full sun, protected from strong winds.
Flowering and fruiting: small, bell-shaped flowers are produced in early and late spring, with fruit following in spring and summer.
Feeding: apply a slow-release camellia and azalea fertiliser in spring or as directed.
Watering: potted plants require daily watering, while garden plants need watering every 2–3 days depending on the weather and soil.
Appearance and characteristics of the blueberry and blueberry bush
Blueberries are compact shrubs that grow to 1–2m high. Divided into highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) or rabbiteye (Vaccimium ashei) varieties, each has its own characteristics and preferred growing conditions.
Highbush blueberries are divided into southern highbush for warmer areas with low chill requirements, and northern highbush, for cool-climate gardens with high chill requirements.
Lowbush varieties are shorter, but are not available in Australia due to climate suitability.
Rabbitye blueberries are the most tolerant to extremes of temperature and soil moisture. These are ideal in sub-tropical areas, as well as southern gardens.
Uses for the blueberry
Blueberries are primarily grown for their berries, but they also make wonderful garden or hedging plants. Great in pots or garden beds, blueberries are decorative shrubs with spring flowers, summer berries and autumn foliage. They do well planted with camellias and azaleas because they all like soil with a similar pH.
How to plant and grow blueberries in the garden
The most critical factor to growing blueberries successfully is the soil. Originally from forests littered with pine needles, blueberries prefer a soil enriched with organic matter, decomposed manure and a low pH of around 4–5. Most soils will need an application of sulphur to help lower pH to this range. A pH test kit will accurately tell you the pH of your soil and how much sulphur you need to add to lower the pH to within the correct range. It is critical to improve soil prior to planting.
How to plant and grow blueberries in pots
If growing in pots, select a premium potting mix designed for azaleas and camellias. This will provide blueberries with the best possible start and the right root conditions.
Caring for your blueberry bush
Blueberries will benefit from an application of sulphate of potash each year in spring to maintain soil pH and the ideal nutrient profile in the soil. Net plants with bird-netting after flowering to prevent birds stealing your entire crop!
Blueberries need a moist but free-draining soil. Raise garden beds if soil is heavy and water every couple of days, especially in dry weather. Always water potted plants daily.
Mulch with pine needles and spent coffee grounds.
How and when to prune your blueberry bush
Blueberries should be left to grow for at least 3–4 years prior to pruning, to allow the roots time to develop and the plant to establish. When pruning, remove any damaged or frost-affected branches in early spring once frosts have passed
Diseases and pests affecting blueberries
Blueberries are generally pest- and disease free. Aphids can be a problem in some areas—if found, treat with a soap spray or eco-oil.
Birds are probably the worst pest, eating your entire harvest in the blink of an eye. Net your plant to prevent birds stealing your crop.
How to propagate your blueberry bush
Growing blueberries from cuttings
- Take a tip cutting in spring, dipping the cut end in rooting gel or cutting powder before inserting into moist propagating mix.
- Use a pencil to create a hole for the cutting to prevent scraping all the root powder off the cutting at planting.
- Water daily.
Propagating blueberries by layering
- Push a branch into the soil, while still attached to the parent plant.
- Roots will develop from the branch where it touches the soil.
- This section can then be removed from the parent plant and potted up or planted separately.
If you like this then try
Strawberries: delicious juicy berries suitable for gardens of all sizes.
Raspberries: produces a bountiful crop of berries in autumn and summer.
Kale: packed with antioxidants, kale is another of nature’s superfoods.
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