Growing blueberries in Sydney
Delicious and versatile - they're just two of the reasons why blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum and Hybrids) are among the most popular fruits to grow in home gardens. You can grow them in an orchard, veggie bed or garden bed - dwarf varieties will even grow happily in a large container. Blueberries grow across cool, temperate and subtropical climates, which means they're perfect for growing in Sydney. As a general guide, if azaleas and camellias grow in your area, so will blueberries.
When it comes to soil, blueberries prefer acidic conditions. In alkaline soils, grow blueberries in containers filled with a potting mix formulated for acid-loving plants - Flower Power's Supersoil Gardenia, Camellia and Azalea Potting & Planting Mix is ideal. If you'd rather plant in a garden bed, soil pH can also be lowered with the addition of acidifying products such as sulphur fertilisers including aluminium sulphate. Blueberries also need very well-drained soil. In heavy, clay-based soils, grow blueberries in raised beds or containers.
While these plants tolerate partial shade, full sun produces the best crops. Keep plants sheltered from cold winds and well-watered, especially during hot, dry or windy conditions and when fruit is forming.
Blueberries don’t need lots of fertiliser. Fertilise in spring using an azalea and camellia plant food - Kahoona is a popular choice - and keep the area around each plant well mulched with organic mulch. This will help to keep the soil moist and cool.
Pruning isn’t a big issue for these plants either. Young blueberries are pruned to shape bushes, while older plants are pruned in winter to encourage new growth by removing any old, dead or spindly growth.
Flowers and fruit
Depending on the variety and climate, blueberries can flower and fruit from late winter through to early summer, so grow several varieties to enjoy a long harvest. There are evergreen and deciduous varieties available, with deciduous varieties grown mainly in cold climates.
Blueberries can vary in their need for cross-pollination. Most varieties are self-fertile, but will produce better with other blueberries growing nearby. They do, however, need protection against birds which might steal fruit before you get a chance to harvest it. Use bird-safe netting stretched tautly to avoid ensnaring birds or reptiles in the covering.
Blueberries have few other problems, although they can be attacked by fruit fly in fruit fly-prone areas. Protect crops using organic fruit fly baits. Blueberry rust, a disease recently introduced into Australia, can also pose a problem. Treat with a fungicide and avoid overhead watering.
While some blueberries ripen all at once, most home garden varieties crop over many months. Pick berries when they are fully-coloured and sweet. Leave berries that are tart, poorly coloured (still green or pink tinged) or firm on the bush to fully ripen.
Blueberries can be eaten fresh, added to cooking, or frozen to use later.
There are many varieties of blueberries on the market, and they vary in a number of ways. Fruiting time, necessity for winter chilling (low winter temperatures) and the size and colour of fruit can differ wildly from variety to variety. While some blueberries tend to grow quite large, there are also several naturally-dwarf varieties available which are ideal for home gardens - especially in small spaces, containers, raised garden beds or to grow as a low hedge around a vegetable garden.
Here's a list of Flower Power's favourite stocked blueberry varieties. Select low-chill varieties (*) for temperate and coastal gardens.
- Blueberry Blue Rose Large berries on a large (2m high and wide), deciduous bush. High chill (best in cold and elevated regions).
- Blueberry Brigitta Large berries on a large (2m high and wide), deciduous bush. High chill (best in cold and elevated regions).
- Blueberry Burst* This recently-released variety has large berries over 3-4 months from late winter or early spring. Dwarf (1m high and wide), evergreen shrub, self-fertile. Low chill.
- Blueberry Jelly Bean Extra-sweet, medium to large berries in mid summer on a small, deciduous bush (30-60cm high and wide). High chill (best in cold and elevated regions).
- Blueberry Kisses* Another recent release with large berries over 4-6 months from late winter or early spring to mid to late summer on a dwarf (1m high x 75cm wide), self-fertile, evergreen bush. Low chill.
- Blueberry Peach Sorbet* Medium-sized fruit on a dwarf (60cm high and wide), semi-deciduous bush with colourful winter foliage and new growth. Low chill.
- Blueberry Pink Icing* Medium-sized fruit on a dwarf (1-1.2m high and wide), semi-deciduous bush with pink new growth and pink flowers. Low chill.
- Blueberry Powder Blue* Medium-sized, powdery blue fruit on a small (1.2m high and wide), deciduous bush. Best with cross-pollination. Low chill. Rabbiteye blueberry variety (V. ashei).
- Blueberry Sunshine Blue* Medium-sized fruit on a dwarf (1m high and wide), semi-evergreen bush. Low chill. Hybrid blueberry (V. corymbosum x V. ashei x V. darrow). More tolerant than other blueberries of alkaline conditions and needs little pruning.