Berry good time to plant
Little fruit with big flavour
Blueberries have arrived in garden centres, including the New Zealand varieties Nui, Reka and Puru. These are all good varieties for southern gardens, so head to your local retailer and pick up one or two bushes now.
What you’re looking for in a blueberry might determine your choice, as will the type of blueberry. For example, there are three types of blueberries cultivated worldwide – Lowbush, Highbush and Rabbiteye, though in New Zealand we grow only the latter two. Within the Highbush group there are Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush blueberries. Northern Highbush varieties require a winter chilling of more than 700 hours per year, while Southern Highbush varieties require only about 400 hours, making them ideal for the warmer north.
So what’s a good blueberry for you?
If you’re looking for a blueberry with large berries, Nui may be it. It has super-sized berries (16-20mm in diameter) that are firm and tasty. Plants are fairly slow-growing, tending to spread their leafy tops outwards rather than upwards. It tends to have its best yield every other year, so other varieties are worth growing in companion to this one.
Nui is an early Northern Highbush – it fruits from late November to early January) and requires 1000+ chilling hours. As with other Northern Highbush types, it’s perfect for areas south of the Waikato. Flowers may need protection from heavy spring frosts though.
Reka is another early Northern Highbush, fruiting from early November to late December. It’s one of the most productive of the early fruiting varieties, though again, you may need to watch out for heavy spring frosts, which could damage flowers. The flavoursome fruit is mediumsized, and plants have an upright growth habit.
Puru is an early-to-mid fruiting Northern Highbush. It produces from early December to early January, though it sometimes crops again in autumn.
Berries are light blue and large, between 12mm and 18mm in diameter.
It’s a moderate to heavy yielding plant with an upright growth habit.
Other Highbush blueberries to watch out for are: Elliot, which fruits from mid-January to mid-February; Jersey, a heavy producer of medium-sized fruit from mid-December to late January; and Blueberry Muffin, which crops in December and again in March/April.
The latter is a compact variety, growing 60cm high x 60cm wide. Elliot and Jersey both grow 2m high x 1.5m wide.
A couple of Rabbiteye varieties to consider are Southland and Tifblue. Southland is a late-season variety, producing its berries from February onwards.
Its medium-sized fruit is best left on the bush until fully ripened for the best flavour.
Tifblue is an outstanding variety, with medium-sized light blue fruit that ripens midseason, from mid-December to late January..
Plant your blueberries in a free-draining, acid soil with plenty of organic matter dug in. Rabbiteyes are not as fussy as Highbush varieties and do not need such an acid soil.
Berrylicious: Time for blueberries.