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How to grow blueberies

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Blueberries have a reputation for being easy to grow. They require little maintenance, apart from protecting the berries from the birds, which is easily solved using a fine mesh. Blueberry plants thrive in acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 or lower. Pruning your blueberry tree each year should ensure a regular crop of berries. Berries aside, blueberry plants are very attractive bushes with small oval shaped leaves.

Planting

Use strong, dormant two or three-year-old plants which are free from viruses and diseases. Obtain plants as close to planting time as possible. If necessary, plants will store for short periods in a refrigerator or other cool place. Sprinkle dry roots with water and place bare-rooted plants in plastic bags before storing. Do not leave roots soaking in water or they will die. If plants must be held for more than one or two weeks, dig a trench in well-drained soil, set plants in the trench, and cover roots with soil. Potted plants should be stored in a cool place. Water the plants if the soil moisture is low.

Set highbush blueberry plants 1.0 to 1.5 m apart within the rows. The distance between rows will vary from 1.5 to 3.0 m apart, depending on available space, aisle width desired, and any machinery requirements. Planting rows 1.5 m apart will result in a walking aisle only; spacing rows 3 m apart will accommodate most machinery.

Plant the dormant blueberry bushes in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Prune any broken roots or branches and set the plants 3 to 5 cm deeper than they were grown in the nursery. Spread out the roots and cover them with soil. Firm the soil around the roots, being careful not to cause breakage. Blueberry roots are very fine and must not dry out at any time during planting. Water the bushes thoroughly after planting.

Care of Planting

Remove blossoms as they appear during the first and second season. This helps the plants establish quickly and grow more vigorously.

Prune highbush blueberries while the plants are dormant in late winter or early spring after the threat of extremely cold temperatures has passed. Avoid pruning too early in the winter. Pruning stimulates the plants, causing them to lose some dormancy and increasing their susceptibility to winter injury.

Young bushes require little pruning in the first three years. Remove any damaged or diseased portions of branches and any weak, spindly growth at the base of the plant. Encourage vigorous, upright growth.

Older bushes require regular annual pruning to produce high yields of large fruit. Fruit will develop on strong one-year-old wood with good exposure to sunlight. First, prune out any dead, broken, injured or diseased branches. Next, remove any canes that are spindly or growing near or along the ground. Finally, cut off at ground level canes low in vigour, canes older than 5 years, and any canes larger than 5 cm in diameter. Keep 4 to 6 vigorous mature canes per bush, plus any strong new shoots. If winter injury is not severe, select 1 or 2 of the new shoots to keep and remove the remaining young shoots. These new shoots will eventually replace the older canes. When pruning, cut out entire shoots at the base; do not prune tips off the remaining branches.

Harvesting blueberries

It is worth protecting the blueberries from the birds, as they enjoy the fruit as much as we do. Cover the plants with a fine mesh as soon as they begin to form berries, around June. This can be removed at the end of the berry season.

The berries turn from green to blue as they ripen. Once the berries have been blue for a couple of days they are usually ready for harvesting. The ripe berries should fall off into your hand if you gently shake or touch them, and this is when they will be at their sweetest.

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