Planting blueberries: when, where & how?
As heath plants, blueberries have special demands on location. This is what needs to be considered when growing blueberries.
Blueberries (Vaccinium) are grown mainly for their delicious, sweet, blue fruits. There are several subspecies of blueberries. The two most commonly cultivated species of blueberries are the native European blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus, also called whortleberry) and the large-fruited northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum, also referred to as huckleberry), which comes from North America. All types of blueberries have one thing in common: their specific location requirements. In order for the blueberry bush to thrive and produce a rich harvest, a few things should be taken into account right at the beginning.
How to plant blueberries
Blueberries differ in many ways from other crops. As mentioned above, blueberry bushes have very specific location needs and, additionally, they are also very picky when it comes to substrate.
The right location for blueberries
The best spot to plant blueberries in is sunny yet protected from wind. Sunlight promotes flowering and ripening and it also enhances the taste of the berries. In their natural environment, blueberry bushes grow on heaths, in forests and moorland areas with a lower pH value. They do not tolerate droughts, lack of water and waterlogging because their fine roots are very sensitive and can suffer damage easily. For all these reasons, those who wish to grow their own blueberries should be extremely attentive to soil conditions and sufficient water supply.
The right soil for blueberries
Many plants in the garden prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH value in the soil but blueberries are moorland plants and are therefore adapted to acidic soils. Ideally, the pH should be between 4.0 and 5.0. Garden soils are usually not acidic enough – so consider digging a larger hole and putting a larger amount of soil adapted to blueberry requirements in there. Soil conditions can be improved, for example, by introducing bark, sawdust or shredded softwood. An easy solution to this issue is to use store-bought peat free rhododendron substrate, which combines all of the three components and can therefore make a perfect habitat for blueberries. In addition, the soil should be light and airy and have a high humus content. What to avoid are soils rich in lime as they do not agree with the blueberries.
When to plant blueberries?
Autumn (October/November) has proven to be the best planting season for blueberries. If planted in autumn, the blueberry shrub has the whole winter to slowly get used to the new location. Those who missed autumn can also plant blueberries in early spring from March to April.
What is the best way to plant blueberries?
To enhance the likelihood of blueberry cultivation success, plant biennial or triennial young plants with many branches and a well-developed root system. These can be either bought from stores or grown from cuttings. When planting blueberries, it is important to leave enough space for the shrub to develop well. To do this, dig a large planting hole about 60 cm deep and 1 m wide. Leaving the planting hole this wide will make replacing soil easier. It is not necessary to make the hole deeper because the root system of blueberries is flat. If possible, add gardening foil to the sides of the planting hole to prevent any lime containing substances (such as limescale) from getting to the plant. A handy tip: plant the shrub about 5 cm deeper than in the nursery. This will promote the formation of new shoots at the base of the shrub. Fill the bed with blueberry of rhododendron substrate. Remember to keep the pH value low (4.5 to 5.0).
To keep the soil acidic, you should also work in softwood, leaves and bark mulch. This will additionally help to continuously supply nutrients to the bushes. Moreover, this organic layer keeps the soil moist and prevents weeds from sprouting in the bed. For environmental reasons, refrain from using peat. The final step is to water the blueberry bushes with rainwater low in lime.
A step by step guide to planting blueberries:
- Dig a hole to plant the blueberries (60 cm deep, 1 m wide)
- Apply foil to the sides
- Insert the plant
- Fill up the bed with suitable substrate (pH value from 4.0 – 5.0)
- Add a mulch layer (use softwood, leaves and bark mulch)
- Water the blueberries (preferably with rainwater)
By the way, the cultivation of several shrubs and varieties instead of just one single plant can have a positive influence on the harvest. Make sure that the young blueberry bushes are at a sufficient distance from one another (1.5 to 2 metres).
Growing blueberries in a pot
A wonderful way to grow blueberries without having to dig a hole in the ground is to cultivate them in pots. The main advantage of this method is the certainty that no lime enters into the soil and that the soil remains constantly acidic. Use the widest possible pot or a container available to you with a depth of at least 60 cm and fill it with blueberry or rhododendron soil and organic material such as softwood or pieces of bark. When growing blueberries in pots, make sure the soil is constantly moist, as it dries out more easily in pots than in garden beds.
Care after planting
Blueberries grow and develop relatively slowly, which is why you should take good care of the bush especially in the initial growth phase. The following aspects should be taken into account during care:
Due to their flat root system, blueberries are dependent on regular watering. We cannot stress this enough: keep the blueberry soil moist and, at the same time, do not drown the plant or cause waterlogging. It is best to use rainwater for watering, as tap water could contain lime which would disrupt the pH value of the soil.
When selecting fertilisers, you should always consider the soil requirements of blueberries. Low lime fertilisers are available in specialist gardening shops. These types of fertilisers are specifically tailored to the needs of blueberry bushes. In addition, you can add acid natural fertilisers (such as conifer sawdust, chopped conifer wood or bark mulch) to the soil. Work these materials into the soil a little and, as they decompose over time, they will gradually release nutrients to the plant.
From time to time even the slow growing blueberries should be pruned. This is best done after harvesting of the berries in autumn (October/November). Remove any old or diseased shoots so that the plant can conserve its energy and use it for the healthy ones.