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Blueberry & Bilberry Bushes

 

Planting

Blueberries and bilberries need moist well-drained acid (peat-rich) soil to crop well (a pH of 4.0- 6.0 is ideal). If your soil is alkaline (chalky) consider growing in pots in ericaceous (acid) compost. Blueberries thrive in sun or partial shade. Bilberries in the wild are woodland plants so prefer dappled shade but will usually cope with full sun.

Plant your bushes as soon as possible after receipt, Blueberries about 1.2m (4ft) apart, the much dwarfer bilberries 20-30cm (8-12in) apart.

Should weather conditions be adverse (i.e. if the ground is frozen or too wet to plant), leave them in their pots in a sheltered spot until your soil is in better condition.

Improve the soil structure by thorough digging before planting and if possible mix well rotted manure or ericaceous compost into the top soil.  Avoid alkaline soil additives such as spent mushroom compost.

Soak the roots in water for 1-2 hours. Dig a hole comfortably large enough to take the rootball, remove the pot and plant, ensuring the top of the rootball is level with the surrounding soil or up to 1cm (½in) deeper. Firm the soil around the rootball and water-in thoroughly.

If growing in a container, use an ericaceous compost. Start blueberries off in a 20-30cm (8-12in) diameter pot, move on into a larger pot every other year.  For bilberries use a 12-15cm (5-6in) pot, moving on about every third year.

 

Watering

Blueberries and bilberries have very fine shallow root-systems so are very susceptible to drying out. Keep the soil around the bush moist throughout its first growing season. In later years water during dry spells, drenching thoroughly once or twice a week. Container grown bushes will need daily watering and should never be allowed to dry out. Save rainwater to use for watering, especially in hard-water areas where mains water will gradually make the soil or compost less acid.  Mains water that has been through a water softener is NOT suitable for watering plants.

 

Weeding & Mulching

Keep the area around the bush free of weeds, particularly during the first year. An annual mulch of well rotted compost or pine needles will greatly improve moisture retention and soil structure, and help suppress unwanted weeds.

 

Pruning

Blueberries do not require pruning in the first few years. To prune in later years remove each winter about 20% (one fifth) of your bush, cutting back to strong new growths and removing any old branches that are likely to touch the ground under the weight of the crop.  Bilberries should need no pruning at all.

 

Feeding

Do not use fertilizer containing lime or calcium. There will be adequate nutrients in most garden soils to promote healthy development. In poor soils, feed with ericaceous fertilizer in the spring.

Container grown bushes should be fed regularly with ericaceous fertilizer through spring and early summer, as directed on the packet.

 

Pests & Diseases

Blueberries and bilberries are generally trouble-free. Any chemicals should be used strictly as per the manufacturers instructions.

 

Further Information

For further information refer to RHS Growing Fruit by Harry Baker. Useful information can also be found on the RHS website.

 

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