Which blueberry variety is the best?
Did you know the first blueberry didn’t hit Australian shores until the 1970s? Now we’re spoilt for choice with so many different types of blueberries available:
- Northern highbush or Bluecrop: best for cold climates like Victoria and Tasmania.
- Southern highbush or Sunshine Blue: best for warmer climates like New South Wales and Queensland.
- Brightwell or Rabbiteye: one of the hardiest varieties around, best for moderately cool climates like New South Wales and Victoria.
- Sharpblue: known for its large fruit, best grown in New South Wales.
How to grow blueberries
Think beyond growing a little blueberry bush for the berries. You can grow a row of these shrubs – from 1-2m – and you have a low hedge of spring flowers, summer berries and autumn foliage. Or you can grow them in pots. Same result!
Put bare-rooted plants in the ground or pots from late autumn to spring. Aim to get plants that are 2-3 years old, as the roots
are already established and you can get fruit this summer. Soak bare-rooted plants in a bucket of water for 30 minutes prior to planting.
Whilst they’ll tolerate part shade they’ll thrive in full sun.
The only thing that blueberries are fussy about is where they are planted. Blueberries can grow throughout Australia just pick a variety that is best for your area.
Well-drained and acidic. Keep soil moist but not wet.
Blueberry plants are not drought-tolerant and have a shallow, fibrous root system so need regular watering throughout the growing season – at least three times a week (just don't let the soil get too soggy). Once established water once a week depending on the conditions.
Include lots of organic matter in the soil when planting, then avoid fertiliser for the first month. Add more organic matter or quality compost once a year in spring. Keep it 4-5cm away from the stem. When flowering and fruiting, feed weekly with liquid fertiliser for fruit.
Sugarcane or pea straw mulch but keep it 4-5cm away from the stem.
Not necessary for the first 5-6 years. Flowers and fruit develop on the outer tips of the branches, so only remove dead wood in late winter-spring to allow new growth to emerge.
Net bushes when fruiting starts or you’ll lose your crop to the birds.
How to plant blueberries
The best time to plant blueberries is in late autumn and early spring.
- The easiest way to grow blueberries is from a small bush (2 to 3-year-old plants) which you can generally purchase in late Autumn and winter from bunnings or your local hardware.
- Blueberries like acidic soil (pH 4.5-5.5) that is rich in organic matter (like compost), so look for potting mix similar to mixtures made for camellias. Dig a hole bigger than the size of your pot and using your hands cover and submerge the plant firmly with soil.
- Lay an organic mulch mix at the base keeping it 3-5cm away from the trunk.
- For the best crop, it is recommended that you plant 3-4 bushes at a time.
If you want to learn how to grow blueberries in pots, follow this guide.
How to harvest blueberries
Wondering how long it takes for blueberries to grow? Experts recommend pruning fruits and flowers in the first year after planting but if you do so it is extremely helpful at promoting great roots for a longer lifetime of beautiful fruit.
Generally speaking, in Australia blueberry picking season is October to February but plants will fruit from July through to April.
Don’t pick too early as fruit may be tart. When berries are very dark, try a few to make sure they’re sweet enough, although they continue to ripen for a few days once picked.
For you to know
If you buy an immature plant, you need to cut off the flowers before they become fruit for the first 2-3 years. This means the plant’s energy is directed to root development and strength instead of producing fruit. Healthy roots mean lots of berries! Depending on the variety you buy, you may need two plants for pollination and fruit production. Check if your plant is self-pollinating or not.
How to prune blueberries
When it comes to pruning, blueberries are happy with very little attention. If you’re growing blueberries in a pot trim back any long stems to keep the bush nice and compact. It doesn’t really matter when you prune but during the growing season is best.
Plant care and troubleshooting
- Don’t be alarmed but blueberries will drop their leaves in winter.
- The reason why your pretty blueberry flowers won’t fruit is that your soil is not acidic enough or there’s not enough nitrogen in the soil. Add organic matter.
The best companion plants for blueberries are basil, thyme and rhubarb.
Is the white and silver sheen on blueberries mould?
The silvery sheen – or bloom – on the skin of blueberries helps protect the fruit from insects. There’s no need to wash it off
as it’s harmless to humans.
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