Blueberries for the home garden in New Zealand

There is a lot of excellent information on the internet that may be helpful to the home gardener wishing to grow blueberries.  The following is a brief outline.

Climate

Blueberries can be grown easily in the NZ climate provided the following is understood. The warmer areas are going to grow the Rabbit Eye and Southern Highbush best while the varieties best for southern areas are the Northern Highbush.  Central areas will grow both well.

The plants prefer a more sheltered environment. They are also prone to frost damage from the time the flowers come out. During this period a frost of more than -2C is likely to cause damage to the fruit.

Soil

The plants do best in free draining acidic soils however most plants are reasonably tolerant unless the soil is heavy clay. In clay soils it is recommended that a raised bed of peat and sand is formed. Some commercial growers in Europe do their commercial blueberry growing in large pots, (some with thousands of plants)

Fertilizer

A standard garden fertilizer is all that is required starting with a teaspoon or two for two year old plants increasing gradually as the plant grows. Be sure to sprinkle the fertilizer and wash it in.

Water

It is important to ensure that the roots do not dry out over the growing season this may mean watering ever few days if you do not get rain.

Pests and diseases

The worst pest by far is birds. They will start eating the berries often just as they start changing colour. If you wish to get a crop in the home garden you will need to cover with some sort of bird net.

Choosing a Variety

There are literally dozens of varieties each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Below is a list of varieties usually available for sale at Blueberry Country. The varieties will be identified as NH-Northern High bush, SH Southern High bush, RE Rabbit Eye. They will also be classified for their seasonal ripeness as E- Early, EM- Early Mid, M-Mid, ML-Mid Late, and L-Late.

Note the Rabbit Eyes are going to fruit better if planted with another variety of Rabbit Eye for cross pollination.

Type NH= Northern High Bush, SH=Southern High Bush, RE=Rabbit Eye

Season E=Early, EM=Early Mid, M=Mid, ML=Mid Late

Variety/Type            Season

Atlantic NHEMThis is an older variety that is very easy to grow; the fruit is medium size with good flavour.

Berkley NHEMThis grows into a large plant plus 3m. It has fruit very similar to Bluecrop.

Bluecrop NHEMThis is the current number one variety in the world. It is a heavy cropper and is reasonably disease resistant. The berries are average size and have good flavour.

Blueray NHEMThis is a very resilient plant with a heavy crop. The fruit is a little soft however it has good flavour.

Centurion RELThis is best suited to the areas where late fruit is required but is prone to spring frosts as it is a late flowering Rabbit Eye. Rabbit eye varieties may produce bigger fruit when planted with a second Rabbit eye plant

Climax RELThis is also a good older variety that does well in the north. It crops from mid-January to early March. Rabbit eye varieties may produce bigger fruit when planted with a second Rabbit eye plant

Darrow NHEMThis is a medium size plant producing large sweet berries.

Dixi NHMGood cropper large sweet berries on a large bush.

Ivanhoe NHEMLarge berries heavy cropper but does require a well-drained situation. It grows into a very large plant of 3m+

Jersey NHMThis is an older variety that was number one before Bluecrop. It grows vigorously and will handle a wider range of soil type. The fruit is a little smaller than Bluecrop.

Marimba SH EThis is very early and requires a warm climate and an absence of spring frosts.

Northland NHE This is a very early cropper. It is easy to grow and has a small berry. Vigorous plant.

O Neal SHEThis produces large sweet berries that produce a very early crop then often have a light second crop. It tends to be quite a light cropper.

Powderblue REMLThis is a very nice berry that does well in most situations. Rabbit eye varieties may produce bigger fruit when planted with a second Rabbit eye plant

Tiff Blue RELThis is an old variety but seems well suited to the northern region. It is a very heavy cropper in the north it will not stand cold winter conditions. It will crop through to the end of March. Rabbit eye varieties may produce bigger fruit when planted with a second Rabbit eye plant