How to plant, grow and care for blueberries


Blueberries can make a lovely edible hedge, and with the right care one bush can provide eight kilos of berries.

Words: Nadene Hall

Best planting time: all year round
Pollination: plant at least two of a variety to get good production, some varieties require a different pollinator so check when you buy.
Soil: free-draining, preferably acidic, moist. Dig in lots of organic matter, perhaps add an acidic potting mix, or mix soil dug from under pine trees (under the pine needle layer) with peat. Add it to the hole when you plant it (dig a hole at least twice the size of the rootball).
Fertiliser: slow-release option in spring
Pruning: late summer-autumn when finished fruiting; cut right back every 4-5 years to encourage new growth.
Size: bushes can grow 2-3m x 1.5m if pruned (can be bigger if not), space 2m apart
Yield per bush: 8-10kg when in full production, especially with others as pollinators

TYPES

Rabbiteye: evergreen, very vigorous, doesn’t tolerate very cold conditions, prefers free-draining soil, drought tolerant but likes irrigation when its dry, best Waikato-North.
Highbush: deciduous, self-fertile (but does better when with at least one other plant), first to ripen (from November onwards), suits Waikato-south.

TIPS

• Ideally, trickle irrigate during flowering and berry production, especially in the two weeks before harvest – you want the soil to be moist but not saturated – which is around 35-50L per plant per week.
• Blueberries most commonly die from: lack of water, especially during establishment; not being planted in a free-draining soil (they hate clay); lack of acidity in the soil; and using weed killer around the root base (which can affect their shallow root system).
• Mulch thickly (15-20cm deep), use a mix of sawdust, bark, grass clippings, compost and repeat regularly.
• Blueberries make a great hedge – plant around 1m apart.
• There are many varieties of blueberry to choose from to suit your climate, but it is possible to choose 5-6 varieties and produce blueberries from late November through to early April.

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.

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