A berry good time to plant
ACENTURY ago blueberries were grown only to a limited extent in Tasmania. Bushwalkers still report remnant seedlings growing wild in the highly- acidic soils around Bathurst Harbour and Melaleuca Inlet.
In fact, blueberries grow to perfection in most parts of Tasmania and now is a perfect time to buy and plant bushes.
Those on sale are named varieties and when two or three different cultivars are planted, bigger yields can be expected.
Another advantage with Tasmanian- grown blueberries is a relative absence of serious pests and diseases. This makes the plants superbly suited to organic growing methods by avoiding all chemical fertilisers.
These days, many newly- bred cultivated varieties are self- fertile. This means single plants are able to pollinate themselves, although other varieties growing nearby always ensure better yields.
These highly- productive bushes prefer fairly acidic soils. In fact, they are related to rhododendrons and azaleas, but prefer full sun.
They clearly thrive in well- drained, moist soil, packed with decomposed organic matter.
Fortunately, most Tasmanian soils are acidic and ideal for growing these highly attractive, fruit- bearing plants.
Apart from being delicious to eat, the berries are valuable sources of vitamins K and C. In many ways they are a supreme health food of particular value to people suffering from obesity and high blood pressure.
Oddly enough, the best places to plant newly- bought blueberry plants is in virgin or long- fallow soils which have not been used to grow other crops.
Some of the best results I’ve seen were when parts of long- established lawns were dug up to make room for the plants.
Before planting, prepare the ground by digging in liberal quantities of completely decomposed, low- nitrogen sheep or cow manure.
Go easy with mushroom compost because it can be too alkaline. Keep in mind all blueberry plants detest lime or alkaline soils, so be sure to avoid areas where builders have mixed concrete.
Above all, the plants need plenty of water during summer, always combined with perfect drainage. After all, they may be moisture lovers but are not bog plants and long periods of saturated conditions during winter will kill them.
Among the most successful, high- producing blueberry plants I’ve ever come across were mulched with century- old sawdust.
This stuff was so old it was almost black. It was also extremely acidic. It sealed in moisture, kept weeds suppressed and acidified the soil. These plants have shallow roots so any cultivation around them must be avoided.
Most newly- planted blueberry plants are inclined to sulk during the first season. They also need extra watering, especially during hot, dry periods in summer.
The bushes grow like small thickets with lots of branches or canes springing from ground level.
It is these canes which bear light crops of fruit at the tips, sometimes even during the first season. If left unpruned, side shoots emerge and it is these that produce bigger yields the next year.
I avoid any pruning apart from removing dead shoots during the early years of growth. Later, as the bushes develop and become established, pruning consists of cutting out all exhausted shoots older than three years.
This stimulates the production of replacement canes which, in turn, are pruned out after three years.
The biggest enemies of blueberry crops are birds. So as crops start to mature, the plants must be carefully netted, right to the ground, otherwise birds steal every berry.
If plants are kept mulched, regularly fed with old manures, remain sheltered from hot summer winds and the soil kept very moist right through the growing season, you’ll have healthy plants and, in time, blueberries galore.