(30 October 2014)
These berrylicous gems are a must-have addition to the productive garden, not least because they taste divine. The fruit of blueberry bushes (Vaccinium spp.) is a well-known anti-oxidant superfood, and their high vitamin C content is not to be sniffed at either. Growing your own also means you can pick and devour the fruit immediately, maximising both nutrition and taste, unlike those on the supermarket shelf. Clearly there is a cost saving to be had here too, as blueberries are labour intensive to produce and their shelf life is fleeting. An established specimen can yield as much as 5kg - enough to eat fresh and preserve for later use (blueberries freeze well and can also bottled as are or used in jams etc.).
Blueberry plants grow approximately 2-3m high and 1m wide and can be planted 1.5m apart. They prefer a sunny aspect protected from strong winds and searing westerly sun. These attractive shrubs are frost tolerant, requiring a period of winter chill to keep them happy and producing fruit. Some species are more frost tolerant than others however, so check with your local nursery for varieties best-suited to your climate. Mid to late spring is a great time to plant blueberry shrubs as the soil is warm and the sun’s rays are mostly civilised and nurturing.
For optimal growth, blueberry bushes need a moist, well drained and moderately acid soil, high in organic matter. They are shallow-rooted, so ensure you apply a generous covering of mulch such as straw, avoiding the stem area. Once established, top dressing with good quality compost and acidic manure, along with that all-important organic mulch, is all that’s needed to keep them at their best.
Blueberries benefit from cross-pollination between species so planting multiple varieties will increase yield. Planting different types with differing fruiting times also prolongs the picking season and insures against seasonal weather mishaps including early/late frosts. And don’t forget to protect from birds, us human folk aren’t the only ones impartial to these delightful morsels of fun.