Blueberries are not only delicious and highly nutritious, they’re also attractive shrubs in their own right, with white spring flowers and lovely autumn leaf colour.
They’re easy to grow, given the right conditions, either in the garden or in containers. Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, they’re a veritable superfood.
How to grow blueberries
Blueberries need an acidic soil and full sun to thrive. Grow them in the ground if you have acidic soil, or in pots of peat-free ericaceous compost if you don’t. While some varieties are now self-fertile, it’s best to grow at least two different varieties of blueberry together, as ‘pollination partners’. Water regularly with rainwater and feed weekly during the growing season with a liquid feed designed for acid-loving plants. Harvest the blueberries as and when they ripen. If growing in pots, remove the top layer of compost each autumn or spring and replace with a fresh layer. Repot into larger pots of fresh compost every few years.
More on growing blueberries:
How to plant blueberries
Planting a blueberry plant in a pot
The key to growing blueberries successfully is getting the soil conditions right. They need acidic soil, with a pH of between 4 and 5.5, and the texture should be light and free-draining.
If you don’t have acidic soil you can grow blueberries in pots of peat-free ericaceous compost – blueberries in pots generally do very well.
You can buy bare-root blueberries in autumn and winter or pot-grow blueberries in spring and summer. Bare-root plants tend to be cheaper. Plant in a pot where they have plenty of room to grow, at the same level it was planted in its previous pot (with bare-root plants you can check the ‘soil tide mark’ to see where it was planted in the field). Firm in well and water with rainwater.
It’s best to plant two different varieties of blueberries (one per pot grown next to each other). While many blueberry varieties are self-fertile and a solo plant will generally fruit, if you grow two or more, they tend to produce higher yields and bigger fruit.
How to care for blueberries
Water blueberries regularly, with rainwater rather than tap water whenever possible. Tap water contains lime and this can change the pH of the soil over time. A change in soil acidity levels can cause blueberry leaves to yellow with chlorosis. A spring mulch of pine tree needles or bark chippings is a good way to maintain soil acidity.
If your blueberries are growing in pots, feed them weekly with a liquid feed designed for acid-loving plants. Then, each autumn or spring, remove the top layer of compost and replace with fresh compost. It’s a good idea to repot completely every couple of years in fresh compost, as blueberries are hungry feeders.
Blueberries don’t need pruning in their first two years. But they do benefit from regular winter pruning once established, to keep bushes healthy and productive. Fruit is produced on branches from the previous year’s growth, so when pruning, take this into account and follow the usual rules of removing older and dying branches, and very low-hanging branches.
How to harvest blueberries
You can start harvesting blueberries from midsummer, over a few weeks as they ripen gradually. Gently pick off the deepest blue berries, leaving the greener ones to continue ripening.
Blueberries are best eaten freshly picked, but can be frozen. Frozen blueberries work well when for baking or in smoothies, jams or compotes.
Growing blueberries: problem solving
Blueberries don’t generally suffer from many pests and diseases. Look out for common problems like powdery mildew, vine weevil and aphids on new young shoots.
Birds may be a problem as the fruit starts to ripen – you may consider netting the bushes to deter them, but take care to ensure birds and other wildlife don’t get caught in the nets.
Look out for yellowing leaves, which can be a sign of chlorosis. This is due to a change in the pH of the soil and will kill your blueberries if you don’t act quickly. Be vigilant if growing blueberries in a pot or if your soil isn’t naturally acidic. It’s worth checking the pH of the soil annually to monitor conditions. To treat, repot with fresh compost, water with rainwater and add a liquid fertiliser for ericaceous plants.
Blueberry varieties to try
- ‘Earliblue’ – an early ripening variety, producing a good crop of large, light blue sweet berries, plus good autumn colour
‘Brigitta’ – with large fruits that ripen later in the season, at the end of August. It needs to be grown with other blueberry varieties, as it needs cross-pollination for a good crop
- ‘Spartan’ RHS AGM – an early- to mid-season cropper, with large, sweet fruits
- ‘Duke’ RHS AGM – a very popular variety, that produces good yields of medium to large fruit. It flowers later but fruits early, so it is good for areas with a shorter summer season
- ‘Pink Sapphire’ – a new variety with pink-white, bell shaped flowers in spring and fruit that ripens to a deep pink. With bright orange leaves in autumn, that fade to deep red, it offers a lot of ornamental interest too