Planting out blueberry bushes

Plant your blueberries during the winter months when the bushes are dormant. Space the bushes at 1.5 to 1.75 m intervals — the bush will grow into a cone shape. Allow five metres between rows. The bush does develop slowly so you need patience. Dig a hole large enough to receive the root ball and set the plants slightly more deeply than they stood in the nursery containers. Blueberries are not self pollinating so more than one variety should be planted. Each variety will ripen at different times, spreading the harvest time over several weeks.

When the bushes are well established mulch them generously with leaves, woodchips or sawdust to a depth of ten cm to provide protection and moisture for the surface roots, thus reducing temperature variations. A thick mulch will also suppress weeds.

Berries should appear in the second or third year and the bush matures in approximately seven years. During the first few years nip off the ends of the branches to encourage spreading. After approximately five years cut back the older wood to around 30 to 40 cm. This should again provide new wood and new shoots will emerge from ground level. Cut out any old twigs or dead wood which may appear. It is advisable to leave the bushes fairly open to avoid crowding and shading.

Fertilise each tree in spring with compost or rotted manure. Foliar spraying with seaweed fertiliser during the flowering period will help fruit set and supply necessary trace elements. Because blueberries need moist conditions you must provide adequate watering throughout the season. Their water requirements are greatest as the fruit reaches maturity. The berries should be harvested five or six days after they have turned blue. The fruit develops in clusters of five to ten berries.

Bushes can vary considerably in cropping but some mature bushes give up to eight kg of berries per season. If you can keep the children away from the ripe berries, blueberries are absolutely delicious cooked in a little sugar and water and poured over plain icecream!

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