Blueberries are a fashionable item in the garden and on the plate.
Not only do they taste delicious but they have amazing health properties too!
Blueberries are both vitamin rich and high in antioxidants, with properties that are beneficial in fighting heart disease, aiding against aging skin and boosting brain development.
Like almost all fruit blueberries will perform best in a full sun situation. They are fairly indifferent to wind, though exposure to a strong prevailing wind will limit growth.
Blueberry plants should be allowed the space of approximately 1m to 1.5m across to grow individually as bushes. They can be grown in rows and if planted closer together will form a hedge. Some densely planted rows can have plants as close as 60-80cm.
There are some size differences between varieties. Blueberries have both female and male parts on the same flower; however not all varieties will set fruit by themselves.
Having two different varieties planted in relative proximity (within 20m of each other) will ensure the bees share the pollen around and will have the best possible crop. There are a few self fertile varieties – check the label when purchasing plants.
The soil needs to drain well, whilst still providing moisture. If your soil tends to retain water or bog, then building elevated beds would be an advantage.
Because they prefer an acidic soil with a pH of 4.5-5.5 they are ideally suited to growing in the parts of Springvale and Mosston which have naturally occurring peat soils.
Though as afore mentioned, drainage may need to be addressed. But don't be perturbed if your castle is located elsewhere. Soils can be enhanced with the addition of Yates Hauraki Gold Peat (most composts are pH 7, so are not suitable). When fertilizing use an acid fertilizer, the same as is used for Rhododendrons, Camellias and Daphne.
For established plants, a mulch of peat around the plants in November or December is advantageous, helping to limit weed growth and conserve moisture during the summer months, as well as providing an acidic conditioning to the soil.
The flowers should be removed from your blueberry bushes for the first couple of years.
This gets a good sized bush established. Once they are up to a reasonable size they can be left to fruit, but should then be pruned every July. Blueberries fruit on second year wood. Prune by first removing any diseased or dead wood, then any low spreading branches as it is best to encourage more upright growth. It is good practice to remove some older branches each year to encourage newer ones to develop. Some shortening of growing tips will help increase the size of berries.
When growing in pots, it is particularly important that they are watered regularly. The biggest failure of plants growing in pots is the lack of water.
No matter what soil your blueberry patch is in, come September, December and February apply an Acid fertilizer. This will maintain good plant growth and health, and thus promote good yields of berries. Be careful not to apply too much at once, as it simply washes away before it is of use to the plant – little and often is most beneficial.
Blueberry plants are shallow rooted, requiring regular watering during the drier summer months. Regular watering is particularly important to establish the plants in the first couple of years.
If you are short on space blueberries can be grown in pots. Mix an acid fertilizer through the potting mix when planting and use it as a supplementary food three times a year also.
When growing in pots, it is particularly important that they are watered regularly. The biggest failure of plants growing in pots is the lack of water, so beware and make a deal with your neighbor to take alternate holidays so as to water one another's pots in their absence!
As a general rule planting two plants for each blueberry lover in your household will give you enough berries to use.
Have a good week!
Gareth Carter is General Manager of Springvale Garden Centre
Plant of the Week
Green Bottle Brush
Callistemon viridiflorus is a real mouthful of a name so I'll refer henceforth to this weeks plant of the week as the 'Green Bottle Brush'.
I spotted this plant as something unusual in a sales reps van a few weeks ago. I recognised it as part of the bottle brush family but different enough as to not recognise the variety. It turned out to be something I consider quite exciting for the plant lover and collectors among us.
I googled the plant name and bought up this most stunning image of creamy green blooms. I have seen red, pink and white bottle brush flowers before but not these blooms of creamy green.
This is a shop stopper and a half with its mass of creamy green blooms adorning the plant from late spring and through the summer months each year.
Its flowers are adorned by birds and bees who come for the nectar in the flowers. Bottle brush are a hardy sort of plant well suited particularly to the drier, lighter soils and coastal conditions that many parts of Whanganui emulate.
See also: Labour weekend is the traditional time for planting out summer flowers and vegetables
Growing approximately 2m high by 1.5m wide the 'Green Bottle Brush' will form an attractive plant – try one for something a little unusual in your garden.