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Planting blueberries

16 November 2010
Planting blueberries

Kris is planting blueberries for the first time, so goes to the experts for some top advice.

Blueberries require very different growing conditions compared to the more traditional soft fruit crops such as black currants, gooseberries and raspberries that I planted last week. As such I visited Trehane Nurseries in Dorset, which has been growing blueberries since 1949. As well as supplying a wide range of varieties to home growers you can find their berries for sale in super markets during the summer months. Ahead of planting my own bushes I visited nursery manager Lorraine Keets who told me all I need to know for successful blueberry crops in my garden.

In the wild, blueberries and other fruit in the vaccinium genus (including cranberries and lingonberries) thrive in poor acidic soils. If you already have free-draining acidic soils, blueberries will make an easy addition to the fruit patch. If working on heavy clay, or very alkaline soil, it is best to grow blueberry plants in containers of ericaceous compost – test your soil so you know what you are working with.

When container growing, plants are best potted up in early spring, no matter what time of year you buy your plants. They prefer an annual repotting rather than being placed in a large pot as a young plant. Blueberries take around 8 years to mature and should go into slightly larger pots each year until you reach an eventual pot size of 2-3 ft diameter. While a decorative glazed pot might look great, a plastic or wooden tub with multiple drainage holes is better for growing blueberries – they hate sitting in wet or being over watered.

Get the soil right and blueberry bushes will last years planted in open ground. Lorraine says they are simple plants to care for, needing little or no pruning, just the removal of dead or weak growth as it appears, or a formative prune to keep the plant in its allotted space.  A light feed of specialist ericaceous fertiliser can be given in April.

Quick tip
Cross pollination gives better yields. Always plant more than one variety for better crops, or team up with a neighbour

Step by step
Planting blueberries in sunken or raised beds

Step1 - If you have acidic soil go straight to step 2. If not create a sunken or raised bed, digging down, or building up 18in (45cm) and filling the space with ericaceous compost. Compost should sit to the brim of the bed once treaded down to allow for settling down.

Step 2 - Dig out a planting hole wide and deep enough to take the root-ball and keep the plant at the same level as it was in its pot. Tease out some roots from the ball ahead of planting. Back fill the hole and firm in with your heel. When planting more than one plant, space at 5ft (1.5m)

Step 3 - Water in the plant and apply a much of bark chippings (preferably from coniferous trees) to protect the plant from winter extremes and to reduce competition from weed seeds. I’ve made the most of my spacious blueberry bed by under-planting with smaller growing cranberries 

By Amateur Gardening Magazine