Blueberries need light, free draining acidic soils, with plenty of rich organic matter if they are to thrive. Soils that grows heathers, rhododendrons and azaleas well, will grow very good Blueberries. Clay, chalk or limestone soils are the death of Blueberries ! If you have tested the pH of your garden soil, a pH of 4.8-5.5 is perfect.
However if you do not have a garden with acid soil, all is not lost; they grow very well in large tubs filled with good ericaceous (lime-free) compost.
Choose a part of your garden that is not a frost pocket, and receives full sun. Make sure the plants have sufficient room around them to develop and grow. A space about four feet square is sufficient.
Plants grown in containers can be planted out any time of the year. However, it is best to do this in January or February, when the plant is dormant as this gives the roots time to establish before the growing season, which starts around early May. (The bell shaped flowers appear first in late March and early April, followed by leafy shoots.)
The ground should be well dug and free from perennial weeds. Dig a hole slightly larger than the container and put a handful or two of peat in the bottom of the hole to give the roots a head start.
Gently spread the outer roots, put the plant in the hole, making sure that the plant is level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil and firm down with your boot. Water the plant in well.
Water is important to the Blueberry. It must not be allowed to dry out. It requires watering from spring “bud-break” to Autumn leaf fall ! A five-year-old Blueberry plant bearing fruit in mid summer can transpire up to 0.25 pints of water in a day, so make sure the plant is kept moist. Rainwater is perfect because it lacks lime but tap water will do the job.
A mulch of well rotten sawdust, chipped wood bark or pine needles, three to six feet thick around the plant helps to conserve moisture, and keep weeds down.
To help plant growth, a couple of ounces of a fertiliser suitable for Camellias, (10-10-10) applied around the plant in May is all that is needed. Do not put the fertiliser on any earlier, the plant cannot make good use of it until shoots are appearing.
Organic fertilisers do the job as well, a little more will be necessary because nutrient levels are lower in organic fertilisers. It will also have to be applied a month earlier as organic fertiliser takes longer to became active.
Blueberries need regular pruning to maintain plant vigour and high quality berry production. The best time to prune is between January and March when the plant is dormant.
For the first 2-3 years of a blueberry’s life (and they can live to over 50 years!) very little pruning is necessary apart from keeping the plant tidy. After that there are really 4 steps to pruning, to ensure a good supply of new fruit bearing wood (remember, that Blueberries produce fruit on branches that were produced the previous year)
1) Prune out all dead wood.
2) Locate the oldest canes and prune out one of every six canes. This makes sure that the old canes that do not produce fruit well are removed to make way for younger more productive canes.
3) Prune out all low branches which will never be picked and are a source for disease.
4) Remove all twiggy wood, on the ends of fruiting laterals.