This fruit is a regular taste sensation and is surprisingly rarely grown in Australia, although we understand it is a lot
more popular with our American gardening cousins. Australians probably don’t grow blueberries because they don’t think they’ll grow well here. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact we’ve successfully grown blueberries here in sunny subtropical Queensland. So if we can grow these scrumptious berries so can you!
Blueberry Growing Conditions
- Blueberries are very fussy when it comes to your soil. They need a nicely composted free draining soil. Don’t even think about growing them in clay soils – they don’t like “wet feet” which clay encourages.
- The other big consideration when it comes to your soil and blueberries is the pH level. Blueberries thrive in a highly acidic soil between a 4 and 5 pH. Basically this is the same type of soil that azaleas and camellias love, so if you have luck in your ornamental garden with these flowers you should be right with blueberries. Acidic soils “unlock” minerals like sulfur and zinc to blueberries, which makes them grow and grow.
- During spring you should get new light green growth. If this is yellow or looks sick your pH is too high. Add peat moss around the plant and cover with mulch. Mulch is very important to blueberries as it helps retain moisture (when they can dry out in summer) and keeps weeds down, which should hopefully not effect blueberries’ shallow root system.
- If you have a less acidic soil consider digging in peat moss, and depending on how much of a fundamentalist organic gardener you are you might even consider sulfur added to the soil a few months in advance of planting. Mulch with acidic materials too such as pine needles or sawdust.
- Blueberries like a sunny position but will also get by in some shade (but not too much, otherwise flowering might be effected).
- During the flowering and fruiting season they’ll need a lot of water – usually around two inches a week.
Blueberry Garden Care
- Blueberries need chilling; so it’s important to buy a variety who’s chilling requirements match your climate:
Best grown in Northeast and Northwest America, and in southern parts of Australia
Grows well in the American plains where night temperatures drop considerably in winter
Keep going north into the depths of Canada and that’s where you’ll find this extremely cold hardy compact variety.
Southern highbush and Rabbiteyes
Suits the American south (and here in Southeast Queensland), these are the right varieties for cool and mild winters
- Try to buy locally from nurseries to make sure you buy varieties that grow where you live.
- Most blueberries will yield a lot better if you grow more than one type of plant within the same variety, and flowers at the same time. For example here in Brisbane we grow two early ripening types of southern highbush – Sharpeblue and Misty. Rabbiteyes must have two types of plants otherwise they won’t produce berries.
- Blueberries aren’t that greedy with fertilising, in fact it’s best to only organically fertilise around three times in spring – and then that’s it. Too much fertiliser will encourage leaf growth but not berry growth. We put down a layer of manure and mulch and give the odd liquid manure drink (with sulphate of potash included).
- You can prune dead, diseased and old wood toward the end of winter or very early in spring before much action starts happening to your plants. The odd prune is good as berries are usually formed on newer wood.
- Blueberries are very easy to look after for organic gardeners. They don’t get many diseases or pests. Most growers report the only real pest is birds. They can be deterred with netting. Or you might just be lucky like us (touch wood) and the birds haven’t worked out that those dark blue balls are very yummy.
Harvesting Blueberry Gardens
- Ok, you’ve waited patiently for weeks now, seen the gorgeous little white bell shaped flowers turn into green small berries, they start changing light purple then dark blue. “At last,” you say, “Harvest time!” But this is unfortunately not the case. Even when the berries turn blue they’re not ready. In fact they’re still very tart. You’ll need to wait at least a week for the sugars and flavour to come out.
- When you only have one or two berries it’s easy to remember when they first turned blue, but later in the harvest you’ll hopefully have dozens and dozens and you won’t remember which berry is ready when. Here’s my experience. Look at the underneath of the berry. If there’s a little green circle at the point the berry meets the stem – it’s not ready. If there’s no circle wait a day (if you can) and it should (hopefully) be ready. Of course with experience you’ll get better at working out when they’re ready.
Lightly twist the berry off the stem, pop into your mouth and enjoy!