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How To Grow Blueberries

Blueberries are long-lived, fully hardy and easy to grow - and they're a superfood, low in calories, high in fibre and antioxidants. Add them to muffins or breakfast cereal, or make juice, jam, pies and jellies. Blueberries will grow well in containers on your patio where they'll provide colour and food from spring blossom to July clusters of fruit, and then autumnal colours. Here's our guide to growing this excellent fruit.

When And where
Blueberries should be planted in autumn or winter. The one essential condition is the acidic quality of the soil - a pH between 4 and 5.5 is ideal. If your garden soil is not naturally ericaceous you can use sulphur chips, or you can grow your blueberries in a pot where they'll thrive and you can monitor and alter the pH, using ericaceous compost from the start. You can also plant your blueberries in a raised bed.

How To plant
Prepare the soil ahead of planting out - if lowering the pH by adding sulphur chips do this at least three weeks before planting in order for these to take effect. Dig in plenty of well-rotted compost - organic matter such as grass clippings, leaves or manure is perfect. Then dig a hole to comfortably fit the root ball, mix a small amount of granular fertiliser into the hole. Note that if not thoroughly mixed in or if too much is used it may cause damage to the roots. Remove the plant from its pot and position it in the hole, replace soil and water thoroughly. Ideally use rainwater as tap water contains lime and will bring the soil pH away from the acidic quality needed. If you plant more than one blueberry this will ensure cross-pollination - which is not essential but will give you higher yields. Plant blueberries 1.5 metres apart. Use pine needles, wood chips or acidic peat as mulch.

A pre-potted plant can be left in the pot for one year to mature and then be potted up into a larger container, or planted out. Keep a blueberry in a container in a sheltered place, away from any strong winds, and keep well watered.

Blueberry fruits will appear in clusters and ripen haphazardly. When fruits turn a deep blue they are fully ripe, and they will develop their most intense flavour a few days after this. Pick quickly before the berries fall to the ground. Use fruit nets to guard against birds - as they love blueberries! Always use rainwater to keep the plants moist from first bud right through to leaf fall.

Through The Year
Pruning is only necessary after two or three years. Then it becomes advantageous to prune out dead or diseased wood in the winter (between November and March) during the plant's dormancy period. You can also prune out the oldest and the least productive canes, helping to maintain high yields and vigorous growth - fewer, larger berries. Lower branches should also be pruned back if these lay down to the ground when fruiting. When pruning, note that buds for next year's fruit will appear on second year wood - don't prune away more than half of the new growth.

Handy Tips
It's important to keep the soil pH at 4 to 5.5, so it's worth monitoring the soil yearly, adding sulphur pellets as adjustment if it is no longer acidic. If growing your blueberries in pots, feed regularly with a feed high in potash.

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