Picking And Storing

Blueberry fruit should be picked when it is blue all over, with not a hint of pink-ness near the stalk end, otherwise it may be sour or lacking in flavour. Once ripe blueberries will keep for a week or more, either on the bushes if the weather is not too baking hot, or in the fridge. They also freeze well.

PRUNING

Very little is needed in the first two years. Later, remove any woody, twiggy growth that is not going to be productive in future. Mid-winter, after leaf fall and when the plants are dormant is the best time to prune. An older blueberry bush should have about one-third woody stems, one-third middle-aged stems and one-third young ones.

In July/August, the tops of the long straight canes, can be pinched out to encourage branching lower down and greater yields.

PROBLEMS

Birds are a problem especially pigeons and blackbirds; protect bushes with netting as soon as fruit shows the first sign of colour. Squirrels can also be a pest as can deer and rabbits.

Insects are still no real problem in this country, apart from the occasional appearance of winter moth larvae eating the leaves, which can be removed by hand when there are only a few plants in a garden.

Some varieties, such as 'Bluetta', are more prone to mildew than others, in late summer/early autumn. It responds well to most sprays recommended for soft fruit. Blueberry rust appears on older leaves in September/October in some years. It is unsightly and causes premature leaf fall but does not affect the crop. Rust spotted leaves should be removed and destroyed to prevent re-infection in the following year.

BEST VARIETIES

There are now three main groups of blueberries available: North American highbush, which average 1.5m (5ft) at maturity, Half-high blueberries which grow up to about 1m (3ft 3in), and Southern highbush which vary greatly in height according to variety, but need less winter chilling than the others and are not really suitable for colder climates.

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