Small and very sweet fruits, characteristic of mountain areas, where they are found wild, blueberries can be cultivated in most of the vegetable gardens. This is a really cool shrub to plant because resistant to frost and little subject to diseases. These small fruits belong to the ericaceae family and in this, to the genus of vaccinium.
The blueberry plant is a hardy species, like all berries it requires a fairly acidic soil, so it is advisable to check the plant's pH and take it into account in subsequent fertilizations. It forms small bushes that are pleasing to the eye and easy to keep tidy, also suitable for decorating garden corners.
In addition to the classic native blueberry of our country they exist many varieties of blueberries, among the most famous are the Siberian blueberries, the cranberry and the American giant blueberry, very interesting because it is very productive.
Where to grow blueberries
Blueberries are a species that we are used to finding wild in mountain areas and generally in the underbelly, from this we can understand some peculiar pedoclimatic characteristics, however there are different varieties of blueberry, by choosing the right one you can grow these berries practically in every area of Italy.
Typically blueberry plants they prefer cold climates, as they fear excessive summer heat, while they fearlessly resist freezing winters. Not for nothing is it a shrub that is very widespread spontaneously in the mountains. In cool areas, it can easily stay in full sun, with excellent results, the ideal is to keep them sheltered from the wind.
Blueberry is a strongly plant acidophilic, that is to say that it requires an acid soil, with a pH between 4.5 and 5.3 (see how to measure the pH of the soil), this characteristic is common to many berries. Various substances can acidify the soil to prepare it for planting these small fruits: coffee grounds, peat, pine needles, oak leaves, sulfur. The land must also be draining, without stagnation.
Reproduce and plant blueberries
After choosing the right place it is a matter of sourcing the blueberry plants and planting them. The easiest way to get a seedling is to buy it in the nursery, but it is not difficult to propagate the blueberry by cuttings, obtaining plants at no cost.
Getting blueberry plants from seed
The berries contain very small seeds that are not easy to germinate. For this reason blueberry sowing is not very common and it is generally preferred to buy the seedling in the nursery.
Anyone wishing to try their hand can still put the seeds in a jar in early spring. Precisely because they are delicate and not easy to germinate, it is advisable to put more than one seed in each jar, thinning out at a later time.
A simple trick: a seeded chamomile bath can help with germination.
Propagation by cuttings
If you already have a blueberry plant to start from you don't necessarily need to buy more, it is possible to propagate new seedlings with cutting method.
The blueberry cutting is done by detaching a branch from the mother plant and inserting it in a jar of sufficiently acidic soil. During the rooting phase of the branch it is important that the soil never dries up completely, so it is necessary to water often. It is recommended to do the operation in early spring, transplanting before the heat or after the summer.
In view of a productive cultivation, it is not particularly convenient to cut wild blueberries. The blueberry varieties selected and supplied by the nurseries are much better performing in producing fruits. For home consumption and for passion, on the other hand, you can safely choose to take a sprig of wild blueberry and plant it in its own land.
Transplant the seedlings
Seedlings of blueberry they are transplanted between September and May directly in the garden, obviously avoiding the months when the earth is frozen and very hard.
For the size of the bush, it is necessary to leave more than one meter between each plant and at least two and a half meters between the rows, but this figure is indicative because it all depends on the variety of blueberry planted.
To transplant dig a little hole, which can be filled with a handful of peat and a handful of earthworm humus. After transplanting, it is important to water the young seedlings and continue watering frequently over the next three weeks.
Like all fruit plants, the blueberry produces its berries following pollination between the flowers, the plant is self-fertile, but having more than one variety has a positive effect on fruiting.
The blueberry it is not difficult to cultivate, even if it requires some precautions. In particular, his weakness lies in his own very superficial roots: be careful not to hoe them by removing the weeds, precisely because of the roots that do not go very deep it is always useful to keep the soil well moist.
Fertilization of blueberries
The first basic fertilization is implemented at the time of planting the blueberry, the type of fertilizer and dosage depends on the soil. You can use mature manure or compost, after checking the pH, since the manure tends to make the soil basic.
At the time of transplant the action of humus is very positive, helping the rooting of the young plant.
You can then add nutrients once or twice a yearor, for this operation, manure in pellets can be used in moderation, again because it tends to raise the pH of the soil, alternatively specific bio fertilizers for acidophilic plants and perhaps providing acid peat.
First year of cultivation
In the first year after planting, the blueberry does not bear fruit significantly, he will wait for the second year to get the berries, it is useful to remove all the flowers to promote root development.
In the first two years, you can avoid pruning the plants, limiting yourself to the removal of the flowers.
Irrigation and mulching
Irrigation. The blueberry fears drought because it has very superficial roots and therefore requires a frequent water supply. To wet the blueberry, avoid using water that is too calcareous, which helps to make the soil basic, so pay attention to what comes out of your tap.
Mulch. Mulching is very good for blueberry plants, both to avoid weeds and to help keep the soil moist. The use of oak leaves or pine needles (acid mulch), which maintain the correct soil pH for this wild fruit, can be particularly favorable.
Pruning of blueberry plants it is carried out starting from the third year of cultivationand and it is an operation to be done after winter or following the fall of autumn leaves.
To prune blueberries you need shorten the branches and thin them out, the operation allows the plant to produce larger berries and promotes the circulation of air, therefore it is also useful for preventing diseases.
Cultivation of blueberry in pots
The blueberry it can also be grown on the balcony, in this case it is necessary to choose a pot with a good diameter, at least 30 centimeters, and a soil for acidophilic plants.
Need often wet the soil in pots, in hot moments even daily, to prevent the earth from drying out. But be careful not to overdo the quantity by stagnating the water. In this regard, a layer of expanded clay at the bottom of the pot is important.
At least once a year it is advisable to fertilize to maintain the nutrients useful for the development of the plant.
From a balcony cultivation of blueberries we cannot expect a large production: it is a plant with small fruits and one cannot think that a single shrub in a pot gives a large amount of product. However, being a nice looking bush, it is a nice species to keep on the terrace and growing it with children is particularly exciting because the sweetness of the fruit will be very pleasing to them.
The adversities of the blueberry
Blueberries are subject to some adversities, in particular diseases such as anthracnose, botrytis and root rot, insects such as Drosophila suzukii and ferric chlorosis which causes leaf yellowing. Let's learn to distinguish and possibly prevent these problems.
Blueberries are a crop not prone to disease problems, therefore very easy to grow and very suitable for the organic method.
Ferric chlorosis. This is not a real disease but a physiopathy, which manifests itself with a yellowing of the leaves. Iron chlorosis is given by a lack of iron which causes less photosynthesis, hence the loss of green due to chlorophyll. In this case, the plant needs iron chelate to turn green immediately, while the soil of the blueberry must be made more acidic to return to having a nutritional balance suitable for this small fruit.
Root rot. The blueberry plant is not very prone to fungal disease problems, however if the soil does not drain the stagnation of water it can cause a root rot, which kills the plant. To prevent it, it is sufficient to properly work the soil, where the earth is very clayey, sand can be mixed before planting the blueberries. The use of mycorrhizae is very useful for avoiding rot, choosing products with trichoderma, a fungus antagonist of rot.
Anthracnose. This disease is noticed on the fruits, which instead of ripening warn and mold. Prevention is implemented by ensuring good ventilation in the bushes thanks to pruning, avoiding delay in harvesting and promptly removing twigs that give infected fruit.
Botrytis or gray mold. The disease generally manifests itself on the flowers, which darken and are covered with a gray mold, occurs in case of frequent rains during the flowering period. Also in this case, a good tillage and correct pruning help to prevent.
Insects and pests of blueberries
Aphids and cochineal. They are not very frequent but these small insects can damage the blueberry if the honeydew carries virosis and other diseases or forms on the fruit. To combat them, I refer to the article on how to defend yourself from the aphid.
Lepidoptera. Moth larvae are especially harmful in spring, when they directly damage the flower or fruit. Bacillus thuringensis is a good non-toxic product for humans that helps to cope with these caterpillars.
Drosophila suzukii or fruit fly. Eastern parasite that has spread in recent years and that often attacks the orchard (see further information on Drosophila). Traps that allow biological capture can also be set up against fruit flies, the bio food traps Tap Trap and Vaso Trap (red) can do a good job of catching.
Harvesting and conservation of fruits
The blueberries they are harvested from May until the end of August, there are more or less early varieties.
Distinguishing the ripe fruit is very simple, since just pay attention to the color, the classic blueberry has dark blue berries, there is also the variety with the red fruit, widespread in central-northern Europe. Collecting these fruits is a profession of great patience. First-year seedlings typically do not bear significant fruit.
storage. Blueberries are a berry easily perishable, after harvesting they only keep a few days. Keeping them in the refrigerator increases their maintenance by a few days. Alternatively, in order not to make them wither you have to work them: you can make jams and compotes or dry them. Blueberry is also widely used to make very healthy juices and even liqueurs, on our site you will find for example the recipe for blueberry grappa.
Variety of blueberry
Blueberries are a fairly large family: the most common in production crops are the American giant blueberries, which guarantee an excellent berry size and are therefore very attractive on the market. The wild bilberry is found spontaneously in the Alps, very sweet and tasty but less productive. In other countries, cranberry, with a more sour taste, is very popular, while the Siberian cranberry is an interesting variety because it requires a less acidic soil. Let's discover some popular varieties.
Common blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
The native bilberry of our country, which is typically found spontaneous. The plant remains small, the fruits are tasty but small berries remain with a color between deep purple and dark blue. Blueberries are not much easier to grow because their natural habitat of undergrowth has peculiarities (acid soil, constantly humid, partial shade, ...) which is not very easy to reproduce, moreover due to the small size of the shrub the production of wild blueberries is not abundant.
American giant blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
It is about a very productive kind of blueberry and for this reason it is today the most cultivated in professional contexts, the plants can be found in almost all nurseries. The peculiarity is that the plant reaches a good size, reaching even three meters in height, with a very developed but rather superficial root system. Compared to other blueberry varieties, it requires pruning that disciplines the foliage. A pink variety was also selected.
Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis idaea)
Another species of blueberry of the genus vaccinium, from the plant evergreen. It is characterized as you can already understand from the name, for the color of the berries, which when ripe take on a bright red. The flavor is a bit more tart than the classic blueberry and is very good in jam and has antioxidant properties.
American cranberry or cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
Not to be confused with cranberry idaea, of which it shares the color of the fruit. This species is much more productive and produces berries of greater size, juicy and particularly sought after both for sweets and dried.
Siberian blueberry (Lonicera Kamtschatica)
This plant belongs to completely different from the European and American blueberry, practically it is a blueberry in name only, it is so called because of its blue violet berries, just like our wild blueberry. The berries are actually more elongated, excellent to eat and with remarkable nutritional properties. Compared to cowberries, the Siberian blueberry is more adaptable in terms of soil and it does not necessarily require an acidic substrate.