Not only are blueberries very productive, they also provide an ornamental feature because of their glorious autumn colours. The fruit is delicious and extremely high in antioxidants, so many people regard it as a ‘super fruit’. They can be grown in the garden, but also make very popular container fruits.
Blueberries are relatively easy to look after. Keep the compost moist, but not soggy wet, and don’t allow the compost to dry out. If you can, water blueberries with rainwater, not with tap water, unless you have no alternative in a drought (tap water will raise the pH level).
Ensure the soil has a constant pH of 5.5 or lower, to avoid problems. Check the pH of the soil in spring and add sulphur chips if the pH needs to be lowered. This shouldn’t be necessary with container-grown plants provided ericaceous fertiliser and rainwater are used.
Feed container plants every month using a liquid fertiliser formulated for ericaceous (lime-hating) plants, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Pruning is rarely needed in the first two years, but after that you should prune in late February to early March. Once you start pruning, you should aim to remove a proportion of old wood every year to keep the plant productive.
Plant in moist, well-drained, acidic soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. While blueberries are tolerant of shade, better crops (and autumn colour) are obtained in the sun.
Blueberries are very fussy about soil acidity, and they will not grow well if planted in the wrong type of soil. Soil acidity can be measured by a pH meter, which you can buy from DIY stores, or garden centres. The pH of your soil needs to be pH5.5 or lower for blueberries to thrive. If your soil is higher than this, you can lower the pH by adding sulphur chips.
If your pH is higher than 8, there is little you can do to lower the pH and you’ll be best to plant blueberries in a container.
While some blueberry cultivars (or types) can produce a good crop on their own, all yield much more heavily if planted near another different cultivar. Check the labels on the plants when you buy.
If growing blueberries in garden soil, add plenty of bulky, acidic organic matter such as pine needles or composted conifer clippings. Avoid well-rotted farmyard manure as this is too rich for the plants and will scorch their fine, fibrous roots.
Growing in containers
If growing in a container, choose one that is at least 30cm (12in) in diameter for young plants, then move into a 45-50cm (18-20in) container when it is outgrows the first one.
When planting, place some crocks (small pieces of broken concrete, clay pots, or polystyrene) in the bottom of the containers to help retain moisture. You must use an ericaceous compost in containers for blueberries. You can buy this at all garden centres and some DIY centres.
Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Remedy: Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover seedlings with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Powdery Mildew: Appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel.
Remedy: Keep the soil moist, grow in cool locations, and spray using plant and fish oils or sulphur-based controls.
Aphids: Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies, spray with pyrethrum, plant or fish oils or use the biological control aphidius or aphidoletes in the greenhouse.
Fruits start to ripen from mid-summer onwards, changing colour from green to dusty blue. At this point they can be harvested.
Pick over the plants several times as not all the fruit ripens at the same time.
The fruit can be eaten fresh; alternatively, they can be dried, frozen, made into preserves, or used in cooking. They are extremely rich in antioxidants and vitamins (especially vitamin C) so have many health benefits.
‘Tophat’: A self-fertile, heavy-cropping dwarf blueberry. Mature plants attain a height and spread of only 60cm (2ft). The medium-sized berries have a very good flavour. It has an attractive autumn colour.
‘Spartan’ AGM: Very hardy, early- to mid-season ‘Spartan’ bears large fruits with a sweet, tangy flavour. To crop well, this cultivar needs another blueberry cultivar nearby.
‘Nelson’: A mid- to late-season cultivar that is very hardy and self-fertile. The large fruits and good flavour make it useful for the home fruit garden.
‘Duke’ AGM: Stocky bushes produce good yields of medium to large fruit of excellent flavour. ‘Duke’ flowers late but crops early so is especially good for northern areas where the growing season is short. It is partly self-fertile.