Blueberries are delectable summer fruits that can be harvested over a period or six to eight weeks.
Not only are they a profitable commercial crop but bushes are handsome enough to fit well into the home garden, enjoying the same acid soil conditions as azaleas and camellias.
Although they are deciduous shrubs, the range of colourful autumn foliage they produce is particularly attractive.
Like azaleas, blueberries are shallow-rooted plants which need a constant supply of moisture to soil that is sufficiently well-drained to avoid wet feet.
Slow-release fertilisers at planting time, then yearly thereafter, will take care of long term needs.
Fifty to 100 grams of sulphate of ammonia in spring and summer will provide the additional nitrogen required for cropping.
The crop should be picked when it is fully ripe, large, plump and uniform in size with a light, powdery, blue-grey bloom. Refrigerate for up to two weeks, rather than keep at room temperature, which will cause them to soften.
Blueberries not only provide dietary fibre but vitamin C and small quantities of other minerals and vitamins.
Of the many species of American blueberries, the so-called high bush (as opposed to low bush berries) such as Bluecrop and Earli-Blue are best sited to Australian conditions.
Australian bred varieties such as Denise, Rose, Brigetta and Nellie Kelly have also made their mark as productive crops.
Blueberries require a climate with cool winter, cool summer nights, and warm, sunny summer days.
Keep the plants weed-free and ensure plentiful water during the growing conditions.
Trickle irrigate around the roots rather than overhead which will help to avoid any possible splitting of the berries.
Although most varieties are self-fertile, two or three different cultivars will improve the fruit set as well as extend the season of cropping.
Plants begin to fruit at around three years so pruning is not required until at least the fourth year.
Once bushes begin to bear, the centre of the plant should be open out in the manner of a rose bush and berry-bearing restricted to vigorous shoots. Weak canes need to be cut back to soil level in order to encourage new growth. A well maintained bush should carry at least 5kg of fruit ripening from late December.
Birds are the main problem in so far as pests are concerned, so if you wish to beat them to the harvest you’ll need to net the shrubs once the fruit is at the green stage.