This tiny little berry has found its way in to our diets and not just as a delicious addition to the muffin! A great little lunch box treat that provides a source of antioxidants and fibre, easy to grow in the home garden and certainly a lot cheaper.
Native to North America this once wild berry has been cultivated to what we see today; it belongs to the same family as the cranberry and is a cousin to the rhododendron and azalea. There are many varieties to choose from, the difference is in their climate preference, and Redwoods will stock the ones that suit our climate.
Best planted in spring through summer, they need as much sun as you can give them, what they dislike are wet roots. This will encourage root rot and destroy the plant, so heavy clay soils are not suitable. If perfect drainage is a problem in your garden, plant in a raised bed or pot. Keep them sheltered from strong winds.
Because of their family connections they like an acidic soil. The addition of pine needles, well rotted leaf mound or peat dug in to the soil prior will help to provide this.
They only require an acid soil and can be fertilise with the same Acid food fertiliser that you use on Camellia and Rhododendron. Give them some at the time of planting and again at the beginning of each spring.
Blueberries have very shallow roots and resent having their roots disturb, remove weeds by hand and avoid deep cultivation.
Mulch around the root zone during summer to conserve moisture, as the mulch breakdown it will provide added nutrients to the soil, use prepared compost or peat.
Remove the flowers for the first 2 years, giving it time to mature before it produces fruit.
Pruning is minimal and while the bush is young, only to remove any damaged or weak growth, this can be done at anytime of the year. After that just remember that fruit is produced on new wood from the previous year, so the aim with successive pruning is to encourage this growth.
Older bushes can become leggy and fruit production will slow down this is when a harder pruning is called for. Start by removing any damaged wood or branches that are touching the ground. Then remove the oldest canes, they will be easy to spot as the wood is more weathered and spindly. Prune to ground level making room for new canes to grow this heavy pruning is best done in winter when they are dormant.
The fruit will not ripen uniformly so the bushes need to be picked over every few days, pick when the berries have coloured to a nice deep purple, this will increase the nutrient level and juice content. To pick place your hand under the cluster of berries and roll them in your palm, the ripe ones will fall away naturally in your hand.
Blueberries are self fertile but because the flowers don’t open all at the same time you will get a better harvest by pairing with another or complimentary variety.
To freeze wash, dry thoroughly, place in a plastic container or a plastic bag.
Birds can be a pest, cover with bird netting as they begin to fruit, raise the frame above the bush using garden stakes.
Be patience full production will take a few years but they are worth the wait.