The delicious blueberry originated from North America. Native American tribes called them "star berries" as the calyx (where the flower falls off) forms the shape of a perfect star. The berries were eaten fresh and dried and other parts of the plant were used for medicine. Blueberry leaves may be made into a tea.
The wild blueberry plants have long been cultivated to create the modern, commercial varieties we have today featuring larger fruit with a deep, rich colour and sweet crisp flavour.
A commercial blueberry farm.
Blueberries can be grouped into 3 main types.
Southern Highbush are a heat tolerant blueberry category which tolerate a wider soil variety and have low chill requirements. They produce a quality berry and are suitable for Perth's climate, tolerating the heat of summer very well. They are usually evergreen varieties and retain leaves all year round. They benefit from cross pollination so growing a mix of varieties is best.
Northern Highbush varieties are the most commonly grown blueberries around the world in areas with long, cold winters due to their high chill requirements. These varieties are usually deciduous. Perth doesn't have enough chill hours to grow these varieties, although some areas of the South West of the state are very suitable for these varieties.
Rabbiteyes are late season varieties with a lower chilling requirement than Northern Highbush. They are tolerant of a wide climate range making them a resilient choice.
Blueberries can be grown successfully either in a large pot or in the ground. Having originated in sandy soils, a free draining soil is essential so they do not become waterlogged. They have a fine, fibrous root system that needs a well aerated soil to grow in. If growing in heavy soil, create a mound to plant your blueberry in to prevent "wet feet".
As blueberries originated in the pine forests of North America, they are accustomed to a lower pH soil, between 5.5 and 6.5 is good. Azalea potting mix is an easy way to achieve this. Or you can try incorporating well composted pine bark into your soil.
Mulching is essential to blueberries prevent weeds and help retain water. Plants need to be watered thoroughly several time a week during fruiting season and in hot weather but will do fine with less water during the other parts of the year.
Small amount of fertiliser added regularly throughout the year will be beneficial to the plants. Azalea fertiliser is best suited. Avoid chicken manure as it will raise the soil pH.
Blueberries require sunlight to set fruit. More sun equals more berries. But they also need to be protected from strong winds.
Bird netting is essential during fruiting season. If the parrots don't find the fruit, then the silvereyes will. After around 4 years, a healthy plant will produce 3kg of fruit or more. Fruit ripens over a 6 week period. Fruit is ripe when it is entirely blue in colour. Ripe berries come off the plant very easily.