How to grow blueberries

Here’s everything you need to know to grow brilliant blueberries
Image source: Anna Subbotina

Packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, blueberries are not only delicious, they make beautiful garden plants too! White flowers in spring are followed by blue-grey fruits in mid-summer and fiery red foliage in autumn. Read our blueberry growing guide to learn how to grow and care for blueberry plants in your garden.

Where to grow blueberries

Blueberries will thrive in sunny spots with acidic soil
Image source: Valentyn Volkov

Blueberry plants are attractive enough to be grown in your borders but they’re equally happy in patio containers. For the best results put them in a sheltered, sunny position but, if need be, they will tolerate a little shade.

Blueberries need a moist, well-drained ericaceous (acidic) soil. If you’re unsure whether your soil is acidic, use a basic soil pH testing kit. Ideally you’ll need a pH level of 5.5 or lower to grow blueberries successfully. Test the pH level of the soil near your plant each spring and, if necessary, add sulphur chips to bring the level back down.

If your soil is neutral or alkaline, simply grow your blueberries in a container. Fill large pots with a mixture of ericaceous compost and soil-based compost such as John Innes No. 3. For bumper crops, grow several bushes to improve pollination.

How to plant blueberries in the ground

Organic matter will help to improve soil fertility and drainage
Image source: Miriam Doerr & Martin Frommherz

The best time to plant blueberry bushes is late autumn when they’re dormant. But don’t worry if you missed the boat. You can also plant them in early spring.

Before you put your blueberries in the ground, time spent improving your soil’s drainage and fertility will pay dividends. Incorporate organic matter like composted leaf mould but avoid manure as it will affect the acidity level.

Your blueberry plants should sit in the ground at the same soil level that they sat in their original pots. Space the bushes about 1m apart and water well. Always use rainwater on blueberry plants as tap water can make the soil alkaline over time.

How to grow blueberries in containers

Who says you need a big garden to grow blueberries?
Feature image: Blueberry ‘Bluecrop’ by Van Meuwen

If you have neutral or alkaline soil, grow your blueberries in containers of ericaceous compost which is available at all good garden centres. Use pots which are at least 30cm (12″) in diameter to allow for good root growth.

It’s a good idea to incorporate some water retaining granules into the compost before planting to prevent the compost drying out too quickly. Why not try growing blueberry ‘Blue Crop’ which is an ideal size for the patio!

How to look after your blueberry plant

Blueberries prefer rain water over tap water
Image source: Howard Grill

It’s important to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Always use rain water rather than tap water on your blueberry plants – install a water butt if you don’t already have one, to get through periods of drought.

Blueberries require little feeding unless they’re grown in containers or the soil is particularly poor. For container plants apply an ericaceous liquid feed (for acid-loving plants) every two weeks throughout spring and summer. If you’re growing blueberries in the ground apply a slow-release ericaceous fertiliser around the base of the plant in the spring, followed by a layer of organic mulch. Try not to use manure or mushroom compost for mulching as these tend to be quite alkaline.

When to harvest your blueberries

If the fruit doesn’t come away from the stem with a gentle tug, leave it until next time
Image source: Dusan Zidar

Depending on which variety of plant you’ve chosen, the fruits will be ready from mid-summer onwards. When ripe, the berries are completely blue with a white bloom on the skin. You’ll need to pick over the plant several times as they won’t be ready all at once. And remember, birds love blueberries so be prepared to put secure netting up as they ripen!

How to prune a blueberry bush

Pruning will not be required in the first two years
Image source: Riann Schell

For bumper crops of blueberries it’s good practice to thin out the oldest shoots each year to encourage lots of healthy new growth. You won’t need to start pruning your blueberries until they are three years old. Prune whilst the plants are still dormant, ideally in late February or March, when you can distinguish the fat fruit buds from the thinner leaf buds.

  1. Start by removing dead, diseased and spindly growth, or any stems that are rubbing against each other. Always cut to just above a bud at an angle facing away from the bud.
  2. Take out one third of the oldest stems at the base of the plant. Old stems are a light sandy colour whilst new stems are red. When taking out the old stems, choose those with the least fruit buds on (fruit buds are distinguishable by their fatter, rounder shape compared to leaf buds).
  3. Cut out any stems which are growing horizontally and low to the ground as the crops on these branches may touch the ground when laden with fruit.

Have you got any tips or tricks for getting the most out of blueberry plants? Let us know in the comments below, or share them with our gardening community over on our Facebook page.

Van Meuwen

Author: Van Meuwen

Horticultural mail order specialists. Working hard to bring you the best quality well-established plants as well as exciting new varieties.

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