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Now they are the must-have fruit for flavour and healthy eating, but nurserywoman and writer Jenny Trehane was growing blueberries long before they were fashionable. She takes us through some essentials for success and shows just how easy and rewarding this crop can be
There's nothing quite like popping outside on a lovely summer's morning to pick a handful of your own, home-grown blueberries to sprinkle over your breakfast cereal.
We all know how health-giving blueberries are - 'superfruits', top of the league for anti-oxidants, beneficial for eyesight, boosting immune systems, delaying the onset of degenerative diseases associated with ageing and so on.
Many of us have happy memories of picking wild bilberries, blaeberries, whortleberries, whorts, hurts etc. These are all names for Vaccinium myrtillus, found growing like a deep and spreading carpet among the heather on moorland all over Britain and northern Europe. Sadly, few can be bothered to pick them now; it takes too long and is a back-breaking, 'purple knees' job, but those blueberry tarts!
What is so rewarding for a blueberry enthusiast like me is to learn of the sheer pleasure more and more people are getting from growing a few of their much more rewarding and easy-to-grow 'cousins', the North American highbush blueberries, Vaccinium corymbosum. There are blueberries in allotments, in courtyards, on patios, even roof gardens now. Anywhere that suitable soil and sunshine can be provided.
There may be only a few berries in the first few years; the bushes do take some time to build up and to really produce a good volume of berries, but the spring flowers, scented like cowslips, the brilliant autumn colour and the red winter stems make them good value right from the beginning, as ornamental plants.
The most commonly grown, the North American highbush blueberries, are woody shrubs, first collected from the pine forests of New Jersey and brought into cultivation early in the 20th century. Some of the varieties bred since then can grow to 2m or more (6ft plus). When pruned annually, and particularly if grown in a container, they will form bushes of about l.2m (4ft) high, by the time they are mature at six or seven-years-old. Then they are capable of yielding up to five or six kilograms of berries.
Ideal growing conditions are those that mirror their native pine forest fringes. Full sun or semi-shade, well drained acidic soil, of no more than about pH 6.2, with plenty of rotted, non-animal, organic matter like pine needles, leaf mould, peat or sawdust, mixed into it. The early blueberry growers gave their new-found crop plenty of cow and pig manure from the byres near their
Jennifer Trehane helped her father to plant his first commercial blueberry plantation in 1959 and wrote her first article on blueberries in The Grower magazine in 1961.
Jennifer has travelled widely studying and photographing blueberries and cranberries; also camellias, writes for a variety of magazines and newspapers. She is the author of Blueberries, Cranberries and other Vacciniums.
homesteads, which killed all their blueberry plants and then pronounced them "impossible to cultivate". We know better; they have fine fibrous roots, no root hairs and simply can't tolerate any strong chemicals in the soil around them. Manure is definitely out.
Relatively few people have ideal conditions but I always say: "if you can
grow azaleas and heathers in your area you should succeed with blueberries." If the local soil is alkaline, chalky, or if it's a heavy clay type and therefore too difficult for fine fibrous roots to penetrate easily then it's better to grow blueberries in containers, where suitable compost can be provided.
The best sites are in full sun, where the best flavours and richest autumn colours will be the reward. Semi-shade will also be fine, but heavy shade produces flavourless, or sour berries and big lanky bushes with leaves which do not glow red/gold in the autumn.
Provided the garden soil is suitable, you will need to allow about 1m (3ft 3in) all around for highbush blueberries, half that for the half-highs. A bed consisting of a mixture of the two, underplanted with cranberries really covers the ground and makes a visual feast in the autumn, too.
Prepare the soil by removing all weeds, and cover the ground, to a depth of 10cm (4in) or more, with peat, or rotted pine or any conifer bark chippings, or leaf mould, pine needles, or bracken. A mixture of these, or even well rotted lawn mowings mixed with a coarsely chipped conifer bark will also do. This then needs forking in to a fork's depth, creating a blend of natural garden soil and the added organic matter to create a good crumbly texture into which the plants will rapidly grow.
Plants usually arrive in 2-3 litre pots and should be somewhere between two and four years old. Smaller plants need nursing along and take longer to produce fruit. Plants may be potted into containers two sizes bigger, but no more, otherwise their roots are surrounded by too much compost, which can turn sour and harmful. Eventually they will need bigger tubs or pots as they mature at six or seven years old.
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Acai, Maqui And Many Other Popular Berries That Will Change Your Life And Health. Berries have been demonstrated to be some of the healthiest foods on the planet. Each month or so it seems fresh research is being brought out and new berries are being exposed and analyzed for their health giving attributes.