Whether you’re an avid gardener or a beginner, growing blueberries can be a rewarding endeavour. This in-depth article will show you the essential steps for nurturing thriving blueberry bushes, from selecting the ideal variety and preparing the soil to providing optimal care and overcoming potential challenges. We are thorough and consistent with our growing guides, so make sure to stay up to date with growing guides with Polytunnel Gardening.
Table of Contents
Need to know facts about blueberries
Achieving thriving blueberry bushes boils down to one crucial factor: providing them with acid soil, boasting a pH range of 4.5–5.5. If your garden supports the growth of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias, rest assured that blueberries can flourish as well. To be sure of your soil’s suitability, employ user-friendly pH testing kits available at most garden centres or online. If the pH level is inadequate, opt for growing blueberries in ericaceous (acidic) containers.
Furthermore, ample sunlight and consistently moist soil are essential for blueberry success, particularly during the growing season, including flowering and fruiting stages. As berries ripen, they become irresistible to birds. To safeguard your harvest, consider protecting the fruits with netting or a temporary fruit cage.
Follow the table below to know which months to plant or harvest your blueberries in the UK.
How to grow blueberries in the UK
For optimal growth, blueberries crave acidic soil and bask in the sunlight. If your garden boasts acidic soil, plant them directly in the ground; otherwise, opt for pots filled with peat-free ericaceous compost. While some blueberry varieties are self-fertile and can produce fruit on their own, planting two or more together often results in more abundant yields and larger fruits. Remember, like other acid-loving plants, blueberries prefer to be watered with rainwater. As you grow your blueberries, keep them well-nourished every week with a suitable liquid feed that can be used on acid-loving plants. Make sure to follow this information carefully if you wish to grow blueberries in the UK efficiently.
Where to Plant Blueberries
The important factor to consider when growing blueberry bushes lies in creating the perfect soil conditions. These berries thrive in acidic soil, with a pH range of 4 to 5.5, boasting a light and free-draining texture.
Don’t fret if your garden lacks acidic soil; you can still grow blueberries by using peat-free ericaceous (acidic) compost in pots.
While blueberries can produce fruit in partial shade, for the most bountiful harvest, opt for a sunny spot to cultivate them.
When and how to plant a blueberry bush
Planting a blueberry bush is a year-round possibility, except when the ground freezes.
When planting in the ground, create a hole slightly larger than the plant’s previous pot. Place it at the same depth as the ‘soil tide mark’ (if it’s bare-root) or align it with the level of the pot. Choose composted pine needles or bark for mulching, avoiding well-rotted manure, which may render the soil too alkaline. Water generously during establishment and ensure consistent watering.
For container planting, opt for a minimum 30cm (12in) diameter pot and utilise ericaceous compost. Plant the young blueberry at the same level it was in the field or its previous pot. Firmly secure it in the container, water with rainwater, and prevent the compost from drying out. Having this knowledge is advantageous when learning how to grow blueberries.
Where to buy blueberries online
Caring for Blueberries
To ensure optimal growth when learning how to grow blueberries, ensure that you water them regularly, preferably with rainwater over tap water whenever possible. Tap water often contains lime, leading to increased soil alkalinity over time. This change in acidity levels can result in chlorosis, causing blueberry leaves to yellow. To maintain soil acidity, consider mulching with pine tree needles or bark chippings during spring.
When cultivating blueberries in pots, keep them from drying out by placing a saucer or tray underneath. Provide weekly feeding with a liquid fertiliser specially formulated for acid-loving plants. After a couple of years, in spring, repot the blueberries into a larger container, around 45-50 cm (18-20in). Additionally, each autumn or spring, replace the top layer of compost with fresh material. Since blueberries are heavy feeders, it’s beneficial to completely repot them in fresh compost every couple of years.
How to prune blueberries
In the initial two years of learning how to grow blueberries, they will require minimal pruning, with only crossing or rubbing branches needing removal. However, once established, regular pruning becomes essential to maintain their health and productivity. The best time for pruning blueberries is late February or March when the plants are still dormant, making it easier to differentiate between fruit buds (rounder and fatter) and leaf buds.
To learn how to prune blueberries, follow these instructions:
- Begin by tidying the plant, eliminating any dead, diseased, or crossing branches.
- Next, focus on removing around a quarter of the less productive, older branches that appear thicker and pale grey. The goal is to retain the younger, more productive branches, typically two or three years old, boasting reddish-brown colour and abundant fat fruit buds.
- You can also get rid of the horizontal branches growing close to the ground. To keep the plant more compact, consider trimming the spindly tips of branches.
- With this pruning approach, your blueberry bushes will flourish and yield a bountiful harvest.
How to Harvest Blueberries
You can usually harvest blueberries around midsummer. This can be spread out over a few weeks as the berries ripen gradually. To gather the sweetest ones, gently pluck the deepest blue berries, leaving the greener ones to ripen fully. While it might take a few years for your plant to produce a substantial crop, you can still savour the delight of homegrown fruits in the very first summer.
For the ultimate blueberry experience, they are best to be eaten when freshly picked, but don’t worry if you have extras – freezing them is a fantastic option!
Frozen blueberries retain their quality and work wonders in various recipes, whether you’re baking, blending them into smoothies, making jams, or creating delicious compotes.
So, stock up on these delightful berries and savour their goodness in all your favourite culinary creations!
How to propagate blueberries
You only need to take semi-ripe cuttings from blueberry plants. Do this during the middle of summer, around July time.
Growing Blueberries in Pots
As you adapt to our knowledge about how to grow blueberries, you will realise that they are an easy plant to grow in containers!
If your soil conditions aren’t suitable for blueberries, worry not! Choose a container with a depth of around 18 inches with goddrainage holes. An unglazed clay pot works wonders, as it allows excess moisture to escape through its walls.
Assign one container for each plant, selecting a blueberry variety that stays relatively compact. Choose a potting mix tailored for acid-loving plants, and plant your blueberries at the same depth they were in the nursery pots. Keep the soil lightly moist but not waterlogged, and ensure the container receives ample sunlight. When spring arrives, feed your blueberries with a fertiliser designed for acid-loving plants, and watch them thrive beautifully in their container homes!
Can You Grow Blueberries in a Container?
As mentioned, blueberries can easily be grown in containers! Here is how to do it:
- Choose a spacious container with drainage holes.
- Opt for a potting mix tailored for acid-loving plants like azaleas or rhododendrons. Alternatively, create a mix of sandy soil, peat moss, and compost.
- Plant the blueberry bush in the container and water thoroughly.
- Apply a layer of mulch on the soil surface to retain moisture.
- Place the container in a sunny location.
- Keep the soil consistently moist.
- In colder regions, protect the blueberry container during winter by covering it with straw or wrapping it in burlap.
Varieties for Containers
Here are the best varieties of blueberries to grow in containers. You can achieve great results by learning how to grow blueberries using these variants:
- ‘Top Hat’: Perfect for those limited on garden space.
- ‘Pink Lemonade’: Suitable for varied climates.
- ‘Pink Champagne’: Provides fruitful and healthy benefits different from other blueberry plants.
How to Grow Blueberries From Seed
Preparing blueberry seeds for planting is a simple yet crucial process. Place the seeds in the freezer for 90 days to simulate the winter cooling period. To grow blueberries from fruit, freeze the berries first, then mash or blend them. The macerated seeds will sink to the bottom, and you can easily separate them from the juice and pulp.
For warm climates, fall is the ideal time to plant the seeds, while spring suits cooler climates best. Take a flat tray and fill it with moistened sphagnum moss. Dash seeds along the top and cover lightly with some moss. Use newspaper to cover the tray with, and add to a room that has a suitable temperature of 60-70°F (15-21 °C)
Around a month later, you should notice seedlings emerging. At this stage, remove the newspaper and provide bright, indirect light for the tray. Once the seedlings reach a height of two to three inches, transfer them to a mix of peat moss, sand, and soil in equal proportions. Keep the seedlings moist as they continue to grow.
By the second year, after the frost danger has passed in spring, the seedlings should be large enough to transplant into the garden. With a bit of patience and care, your blueberry seeds will flourish into healthy, thriving plants, rewarding you with delicious berries for years to come.
Fill your container with either fresh potting mix or a soilless mix made from a balance of pine bark and sphagnum peat moss. Steadily remove the plant from its previous container, and gently shake off or remove soil by hand. Replant the shrub at the same depth as it was in its former container, and retain soil moisture, ensuring it does not go soggy. With this approach, you will obtain a fruitful harvest by following our advice on how to grow blueberries.
During the winter, blueberry bushes enter a dormant phase, displaying resilience to withstand the coldest conditions of their hardiness zones. However, they can be vulnerable to fluctuating temperatures that spur new growth. If you have blueberries in pots, safeguard them by covering them with frost blankets to shield against freezing air and chilling winds. For those in the ground, maintain stable soil temperatures by applying a protective layer of mulch around the bushes before the onset of chilly weather.
Here is how to improve your shed to withstand all weather conditions and potential theft.
Growing blueberries: problem solving
Blueberries are generally hardy against pests and diseases, but be on the lookout for common issues such as powdery mildew, vine weevil, and aphids, especially on new young shoots.
As the fruit ripens, birds, particularly pigeons and blackbirds, may pose a problem. To protect your harvest, consider covering the bushes with nets, but make sure to prevent any birds or wildlife from getting trapped in them.
Yellowing leaves could indicate chlorosis, caused by a shift in soil pH, which can be fatal to blueberries if not addressed promptly. Be especially watchful if growing blueberries in pots or in naturally non-acidic soil. Regularly check the soil’s pH and take action if needed. You can treat and prevent chlorosis by repotting the plant with fresh compost, rainwater, and a liquid fertiliser for ericaceous plants.
Remember that blueberry bushes may not produce fruit every year. To remedy this, consider pruning out some of the older branches during winter.
Be aware of other common blueberry diseases like:
- Anthracnose: A fungal disease spreading rapidly in damp weather, causing bright pink spore clusters on developing berries.
- Botrytis: Another fungus that thrives in damp conditions, and can cause fruit to rot.
- Canker: This disease starts with small reddish spots on lower canes, which enlarge into a bullseye. When left untreated, they can girdle the cane, causing it to die back.
- Mummy Berry: A severe disease caused by a fungus. It begins with blackening flower clusters that eventually die, leading to tan, hard, mummified-looking berries.
- Twig Blight: Similar to canker at the beginning, but progresses to affect the crown, smaller branches, and twigs, causing leaf spots.
Monitoring your blueberry bushes and promptly addressing any issues will help ensure a healthy and fruitful harvest.
Blueberries vs. Huckleberries
You may notice when learning how to grow blueberries that this fruit and huckleberries are similar in appearance and other properties.
This is because blueberries and huckleberries belong to the same genus, sharing visual similarities at first glance with their small, round, and bluish appearance. However, they differ in taste, as huckleberries are generally tarter compared to blueberries. Another distinction lies in their seeds; huckleberry seeds are noticeably hard when you bite into them, unlike the softer seeds found in blueberries. Keep an eye out for these unique characteristics to distinguish between these delightful berries.
Recipes for Blueberries
You can use blueberries in many culinary recipes in the kitchen, including smoothies, blueberry & pistachio cake, cheesecake, and much more delicious treats! Find out more with these blueberry recipes.
Grow Blueberries Today for a Great Harvest
In conclusion, growing blueberries can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, whether in containers or the ground. From choosing the right variety and creating the ideal soil conditions to protecting against pests and diseases, understanding the unique traits of blueberries and nurturing them with care will lead to a bountiful harvest of these delightful and nutritious berries. Only you can achieve great results by following this guide on how to grow blueberries in the UK, and in a commercial polytunnel.
If you would like to grow more fruits and veg in your garden or polytunnel, check out some of these growing guides:
Do blueberries need pruning?
Yes, blueberries benefit from pruning to maintain their shape, remove dead or damaged branches, and promote better airflow and fruiting. Prune during late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
How long does it take for blueberry bushes to bear fruit?
Blueberry bushes generally take 2 to 3 years to mature and start bearing fruit. However, the exact timing may vary depending on the variety and growing conditions.
Should blueberries be fertilised?
Blueberries benefit from regular fertilisation. Use a balanced fertiliser formulated for acid-loving plants, and apply it according to the package instructions in early spring and again in late spring or early summer.
How do I protect blueberries from birds?
Birds can be a challenge when it comes to blueberry cultivation. Consider covering the plants with bird netting or installing scare devices like reflective tape or wind chimes to deter birds.
Are blueberries prone to any specific pests or diseases?
Blueberries can be susceptible to pests and diseases such as aphids, mites, fruit flies, and fungal infections. Regular monitoring, proper sanitation, and using organic pest control methods can help manage these issues.
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Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK