BERRY

Parenting - - Backyard -

It is strange to think, but the blue­berry is a fairly re­cent ad­di­tion to the New Zealand diet. It cer­tainly wasn’t around when I was grow­ing up in the early 70’s. Now it’s the ‘go to’ berry for muffins and a handy snack in the lunch­box. It is a fab­u­lous source of an­tiox­i­dants and fi­bre, easy to grow in the home gar­den, and cer­tainly a lot cheaper than other berries!

Best planted in spring through au­tumn, blue­ber­ries pre­fer full sun, but at a push will han­dle a lit­tle shade for some of the day. What they dis­like are wet roots, so heavy clay soil is not suit­able and may cause root rot. If per­fect drainage is a prob­lem in your gar­den, plant your blue­berry plant in a raised bed or pot.

Blue­ber­ries be­long to the same fam­ily as the cran­berry and are a cousin to the rhodo­den­dron and aza­lea. It is be­cause of this fam­ily con­nec­tion that they like an acidic soil. Pre­pare the hole with well-rot­ted leaf mound or peat dug. About three weeks later, ap­ply acid food – the same food used for aza­lea and rhodo­den­drons. When you ap­ply the fer­tiliser, sprin­kle it in a ring a few cen­time­tres out from the main stem. Don’t over fer­tilise – a cou­ple of times a year will be enough.

Blue­ber­ries are mostly self-fer­til­is­ing, but it’s com­mon to see fruit, flow­ers and buds on the plant at the same time. This means that one bush on its own will strug­gle to pro­vide a de­cent crop. Cross-pol­li­na­tion from bees is needed to im­prove this, so plant­ing two or more va­ri­eties is a good idea.

Blue­ber­ries have very shal­low roots and re­sent hav­ing their roots dis­turbed, so re­move weeds by hand and avoid deep cul­ti­va­tion. Wa­ter is also key for grow­ing healthy blue­ber­ries. Mulch around the root zone dur­ing sum­mer to con­serve mois­ture. As the mulch breaks down it will pro­vide nu­tri­ents to the soil. As with the fer­tiliser, don’t mulch right up to the main stem – give it a bit of space.

For the first two years, re­move the flow­ers. This will give the plant time to ma­ture and es­tab­lish a strong root sys­tem, pro­vid­ing bet­ter crops in the fu­ture. Be pa­tient, full pro­duc­tion will take a few years but they are well worth the wait.

Prun­ing is min­i­mal while the bush is young. Af­ter that you just need to re­mem­ber that fruit is pro­duced on new wood from the pre­vi­ous year’s growth. Start by re­mov­ing any dam­aged wood or branches that are touch­ing the ground. Old wood is easy to spot as it is more weath­ered and spindly. This heavy prun­ing is best done in win­ter.

Pick the berries when they have coloured to a nice deep purple. To make sure you get to them be­fore the birds, cover them with bird net­ting and use gar­den stakes to make a tem­po­rary raised frame above the bush.

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