A berry good time to plant

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

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.

FEEL­ING BLUE: It’s the per­fect time to plant some blueberry bushes in Tas­ma­nia.

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