The blueberries, also called blueberries, are ripe from July and invite to snack. The picking of the small dark blue fruits, for example during a summer hike through our forests, is a little tedious and sometimes one has to search quite long, but one is rewarded with the incomparably intense aroma of the small berries – and mostly also with blue colored fingers and lips.
The native forest blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a deciduous dwarf shrub about 50 centimeters high, which thrives in our forests on humus, permeable soils, which are also slightly acidic. The plants belonging to the heather family (Ericaceae) can also be cultivated in the garden under appropriate site conditions, but more and more people are choosing blueberry varieties instead. These shrubs, up to 1.70 metres high, originate from the North American blueberry (V. corymbosum) and form large sweet fruits over several weeks. The berries of forest blueberries are not only smaller than those of cultivated relatives, their skin and flesh are also deep purple, whereas the flesh of cultivated blueberries is white to light green.
Wild and cultivated blueberry
The blue-black fruits of the wild blueberry (left) sit individually on short stems. In the culture variant (right), the fruits are arranged in several in so-called umbel grapes. Typical for the cultivated form is the crown-shaped blossom rest and a more intensive tires of the fruits.
In contrast to collecting the juicy fruits in the wild, you don’t have to spend a long time looking for them when growing them in your own garden, but can pick them fresh at any time. Although blueberries have a reputation among many gardeners for being quite demanding, this is only true to a limited extent. Because if the location conditions are right, they are actually quite easy to maintain and with careful bed preparation, proven and newer varieties such as ‘Bluecrop’ or ‘Duke’ deliver a rich and reliable harvest. Many varieties are not inferior to their wild relatives when it comes to aroma, but blueberry bushes are not only useful plants, but also have a high ornamental value. In May white bell-like flowers enchant, from July to September the blue-ripened fruits seduce, and in autumn most varieties surprise with beautiful dark red leaves. By the way: You can also plant cultivated blueberries in tubs. The same conditions apply to the soil substrate in the pot as in the bed. For this purpose, however, weaker varieties such as ‘Poppins’ or ‘Patriot’ should be used and the planters should hold at least 15 litres. Drill a few additional holes to drain off the water or rainwater.
Location and soil
When growing blueberries or bilberries, one simply takes nature as a role model: Like all heather plants, they thrive best on humus-rich, sandy to boggy soils, for example in the Lüneburg Heath or in light pine forests. You can create similar conditions by working in bark compost from pine, fir or spruce wood and a 15 to 20 centimeter thick mulch layer from coniferous wood chips. The mycorrhiza fungi with which the blueberry bushes live in close symbiosis can only survive in coniferous mulch. Covering the bed is also important in order to suppress weeds, because chopping and weeding would damage the plants with their shallow roots. Alternatively, a mixture of peat, sand and garden soil or special rhododendron soil can be used instead of bark compost to acidify the soil (pH value 4 to 5). The cultivars also require a sunny place and sufficient humidity, especially during the ripening period of the fruit.
Planting and care
The best planting season is autumn or spring. As a plant pruning, the shoots are initially shortened by about a third. When planting cultivated blueberries, a pit 30 to 40 centimeters deep and 80 to 100 centimeters wide is excavated. The length of the bed depends on the number of shrubs. Experts advise to use at least two different blueberry varieties for a safe fertilisation of the flowers. The significantly longer harvest time speaks in favour of planting several varieties with different ripening times. It has also been shown that the fruits are slightly larger when pollinated by other plants. The planting distance should be at least 70 centimeters. The bushes are placed so deep into the hole that the pot ball is about five centimeters above ground level and then piled up with coarse bark mulch. Blueberries need a lot of water. For watering it is best to use low-mineral rainwater, as blueberries and bilberries, like almost all heather plants, are sensitive to lime. If you cultivate your plants in pots, they should be re-potted into a larger container at least every two years.
Education and editing
The most beautiful fruit grapes grow on the biennial shoots of cultivated blueberries. The older the branches are, the smaller the berries become and the later they ripen. Regular cutting of blueberries is therefore one of the few important care measures. Simply shorten all three- to four-year-old branch sections in spring just above a young side shoot. One takes out strongly aged shoots completely and pulls, similarly as with currants, for it one to two strong soil shoots. After cutting, you should provide your blueberry with a balanced complete fertilizer.
Harvesting and recycling
If the site conditions are right, well-rooted blueberry bushes deliver six to ten kilograms of fruit in one season. Most varieties take about four weeks to harvest. The berries colour from green to reddish violet to blue-black. Wait until every red hint around the stem base has disappeared before picking and only then do the fruits develop their full aroma. They taste particularly good freshly picked, for example in muesli or yoghurt. Blueberries and blueberries can also be used to make delicious desserts such as blueberry pancakes or blueberry muffins. If you want to enjoy the sweet fruits a little longer, you can use them to make aromatic jams or jellies.
Blueberries are propagated using cuttings that are cut from soft, healthy shoots in midsummer. After about a year in the seed tray and pot, the offspring can be planted out in the bed.
Pests and diseases
The culture blueberry is infested occasionally by gray mold. In addition, leaf chlorosis can occur if the lime content in the soil is too high. The fruits are also popular with birds.
Blueberries in the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.