Growing Blueberries in Open Ground
How to grow Blueberries - I
Growing blueberries successfully is not hard if your soil has two things: a moist yet free draining quality with lots of rich organic matter and a low, acidic pH (pH 4.0-5.5 to be precise).
The first is easy: you can incorporate lots of lovely acidic compost before planting and remember to keep your bushes well watered in dry spells.
The second is down to chance: if you have the right pH, great. If it is a tad too high, between pH5.5-7.0 you can get away with it if you replace the soil to a depth of 3 feet with acidic peat, ericaceous compost and acidic leaf mould. If your pH is over 7.0, you will have to grow your plants in pots.
Finally, you will need a net: birds go crazy for the fruit and will even pick off the fruit buds if they are very hungry.
Planting Blueberries: On arrival, soak your blueberry plants, in their pots, in rainwater for half an hour to make sure they are wet and happy.
Plant immediately if possible, but if you can't then stand the blueberry plants in a sheltered place outdoors, with lots of light and where the roots won't freeze. Water with rainwater if necessary.
Choose a planting site that is sheltered and ideally in full sun although they can fruit well in light shade. The soil should be acid, well drained and moisture retentive for them to flourish. They hate lime and chalk - your plants will just die slowly if you try to plant them in those soils: blueberry plants are members of the heather family and like similar conditions to do well.
Prepare the ground really well. Kill or remove perennial weeds such as docks and bindweed they are easier to get rid of now than later. Then make a good sized square hole (90 cms square) for each plant, mixing the topsoil you take out with an equal or greater amount of acid (ericaceous) moss peat. If drainage is suspect, improve it now and add acid sharp sand or grit.
Place blueberry plants (150 cms) apart. Plant so that they are in the same level in the soil as they were in the pot, with the crown of the plant just under the soil level. Fill the hole with the peat/soil planting mixture and tread around the plants using the ball of your foot to firm them in. Water well with rainwater and finish off by mulching with moss peat or shredded bark.
Keep blueberries well watered - they suffer badly if they dry out. Rainwater is best but tap water is better than nothing. Keep the plants well weeded.
Top Tip: Blueberries crop with increasing vigour and produce more fruit in the long term if they are not allowed to fruit in the year after planting. Rub out any fruit buds (the fat ones) in the first winter - this is optional, but sacrificing your first year's fruit will greatly increase your yields in the following years.
Fertilising: Remember to never add anything with lime: wood ash from the fire included. Each March, give your plants a boost with a (lime-free!) compound fertiliser (follow the instructions...) If your plants did not grow well the year before (less than 30cms) - apply 1/2 oz per sq. yd (17g per sq m) of sulphate of ammonia. After the chemicals, give them another good mulch of peat or bark when the ground is still wet. This will help keep you plants growing.
Harvesting: They are ripe when they are a bluish-black with a waxy, white bloom, come off the stalks with a gentle pull and are soft when squeezed. Blueberries ripen over a period of time so you can pick them over repeatedly over a two month period with a variety like Chandler Blueberries.
They don't store well: two, maybe three weeks in the fridge. Freezing will keep the goodness but lose the best part of the flavour.
Pruning: Blueberry plants don't need much trimming and you can almost get away with letting them get on with it. Cut out any damaged, diseased or rubbing branches and any branches that are lying on the ground when you spot them. If your plants don't branch out a lot in their first year, cut back the longest stems by a third, just above an outward facing shoot. In their third or fourth year, when the bush becomes dense, select about a fifth of the oldest, biggest, barest (i.e. the most woody) stems to cut right back down to the ground, or, if they are towards the edge of the bush, down to above a strong, outward facing sideshoot. You can do this every 3 years or so. Carry out this formative pruning in March / early spring.
To see our plants go to our Blueberries page.