Blueberries are an easy-care fruit and can provide masses of health-giving tasty fruit from December to April. They are wonderful decorative shrubs with spring flowers, summer berries and colourful autumn foliage, and make an ideal edible hedge.
Using the right varieties, blueberries can be grown in small gardens; they are also easy to grow in pots.
At a glance
Choose a sunny, sheltered site with free draining more acidic soil. Enrich with plenty of organic matter (compost), and mixing peat into the soil will provide acidity.
Use a slow release food as a base fertiliser when planting, which will feed the plants as they need it for up to two years. If planting as a hedge, space 0.6-1m apart, or 2m apart to grow as a bush.
Blueberries are available most of the year and can be planted anytime provided they are watered regularly over the summer months. They will need protection from frost when flowering.
The slow release food applied at planting will provide sufficient food for the first year. During flowering and fruiting, apply an acidic plant food every six weeks.
Blueberries have a shallow root system, so water to keep moist through the growing season; mulching will help retain moisture.
Mulch thickly using a mix of sawdust, bark, grass clippings and compost and repeat regularly. Keep the base of the plant weed free as the shallow roots will have trouble competing with invading weeds.
Dwarf varieties are the best choice for pots. Use a pot at least 400mm wide and deep. Position in full sun and protect from strong winds. Use an acidic potting mix, like one specially formulated for camellias and azaleas, and feed with a slow release acid food.
Blueberries are generally pest and disease free. The worst pest is birds which will start eating the berries as they start to change colour. Net your plants to prevent them stealing the crop.
Blueberries fruit on wood grown the previous season. Therefore, to both keep the bush under control and to maintain good fruiting, prune the growth that has carried the crop as soon as it is picked, in summer. This encourages new growth from a lower level maintaining a compact bush. Water well in summer to encourage this new growth.
Blueberries will be ready for picking from December through to March depending on the variety and your location. Don't rush to pick the berries as soon as they turn blue. Wait a couple of days and when they're ready, they should fall off into your hand.
There are many varieties of blueberry to choose from to suit your climate, and it is possible to choose 5-6 varieties and produce blueberries from late November through to early April.
Blueberries are cold hardy and require chilling to set fruit. They are all best planted with a different variety for maximum pollination. The two main types of blueberries grown in New Zealand are Highbush and Rabbiteye.