- Blueberries need acidic soil so you may need to use a container to grow
- You will also need to buy some peat-free ericaceous potting compost
- The best time to prune them is between Christmas and the end of February
Certain foods belong to certain meals and there’s no crossing those divides. So I have marmalade on my breakfast toast but never dream of eating it at any other time of day. Likewise, porridge is for breakfast only.
As it happens, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a blueberry save at breakfast time either, but they are delicious and as I grow them myself and as I grow wild in my old age, I could contemplate blueberries brightening any time of day.
These fruits have come to us from America and they belong to the Vaccinium genus, which also includes cranberries and our native bilberry.
Monty says that any garden is capable of growing a bush of blueberries, and if the fruit incentive enough they are very decorative plants
Although cranberries have crossed the Atlantic in the shape of jelly, none of the other berries have become so popular or available as blueberries.
The blueberry really arrived on this shore in 1952 when David Trehane, a Dorset farmer, took 80 plants free of charge from Canada and five years later began the first UK commercial blueberry operation.
This has now grown so widespread that strawberries are the only home-grown soft fruit that outsell blueberries. Just down the road from where I’m writing this are fields and fields of pot-grown blueberries, all probably destined for a supermarket near you.
But you could just as easily grow your own. Blueberries need acidic soil, so unless you live in an area that favours rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers and camellias they’ll need to be grown in a container.
This means any garden can accommodate a bush or two, and, as if the fruit were not incentive enough, blueberries are very decorative plants with stunning autumn colour, ranging from brilliant red through orange to gold.
MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK
MEXICAN ASTER (Cosmos bipinnatus)
As we enter that halfway season between summer and autumn, one annual that will reliably flower for as long as there is no frost is C. bipinnatus.
If you keep deadheading yours, cutting down the stems back to the first leaf, it should keep producing blooms until November.
The plant’s daisy-like flowers range from the pure white of ‘Purity’ to the deep velvety red of ‘Rubenza’ (pictured). It does best in full sun and rather alkaline soil.
Young plants can be eaten by slugs and snails and mature plants need support, but otherwise it’s largely trouble free.
To grow them successfully you will need to buy some peat-free ericaceous potting compost. This is usually made from composted bracken or pine bark. Mix this with some material to improve drainage such as perlite or horticultural grit. If you have some leaf mould, add about 25 per cent in volume.
The pot needs to be generous but no more than twice the size of the container that the plants are sold in, otherwise water and air movement around the roots becomes stagnant and will damage the growing plant. They can always be potted on when they outgrow their containers.
Water them well, then it’s important to keep them watered, especially in spring and summer when the buds and fruits are forming. But only ever use rainwater as tap water is almost always too alkaline for them.
Position the bushes in a sunny spot, a place that gets the sun for at least half the day. This will not only help ripen the fruit but also the new wood, which will carry the next season’s plants. The better this wood ripens, the better the fruit the following year.
The fruit do not all ripen at the same time, meaning they can be picked almost daily rather than in one big harvest. Unfortunately birds like them as much as humans so the plants need netting to protect them – or, if the pots are small enough to carry, do as I do and put them in the greenhouse or conservatory, if you have one, while the fruit is becoming ripe. They can then be brought outside once again in autumn.
Pruning is based upon achieving a balance of enough new stems to provide the following year’s crop while leaving enough of last year’s growth for the coming season’s harvest.
The best time to do this is between Christmas and the end of February. Remove all dead or very spindly growth and cut back last year’s fruiting stems. Different varieties have different growth patterns – for instance, ‘Bluecrop’ typically has very vigorous upright growth that must be thinned back to the base, leaving no more than about ten stems per plant.
Q I opened the lid on my compost bin recently and found it was one gigantic anthill. How can I use it as mulch when it’s so infested?
Carole Batter, Cuffley, Herts
A Your compost has obviously not been turned recently, allowing the ants to get established, and as they don’t like damp conditions, their presence suggests your compost is too dry. Empty out the compost, put it all back in, water as you go, leave for a month, then use as mulch.
Q I gave my Hydrangea paniculata a short back and sides before moving it to better ground this April, but then it didn’t flower. Did I prune it too hard?
Philip Sheldon, Derby
A H. paniculata flowers on the current season’s growth so hard pruning in spring shouldn’t affect flowering. It may be reacting to being moved. Keep it well watered and next March prune new sideshoots back to within 5cm of the main stems, then mulch, and it should flower next summer.
Q My tomatoes are rotting underneath as they begin to ripen. What can I do?
Jim Bayliss, Bedford
A It sounds like blossom end rot, where irregular or insufficient watering means the part of the fruit furthest from the roots isn’t getting the calcium it needs from the soil. Affected fruits can’t be saved but more regular watering can rescue the rest.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online