Yes, you can grow Blueberries in South Africa

by Lala

I posted 10 Tips for Growing Blueberries in South Africa, earlier. Check that post out for info on growing conditions, soil, fertiliser and so on. This post is all about my own blueberry plants and their progress.

My tissue culture blueberries and mystery blueberries

My first blueberry plants were not propagated from seeds or cuttings, but via tissue culture, by a lab in the Cape! I find that process incredibly fascinating but I will not go into it for the sake of brevity. I bought them at a small, specialist nursery that trades in weird and wonderful fruit trees, not readily available in SA. Because of that, I paid a bit of a premium considering their size, but I will be rewarded with fast fruiting and a guarantee that they will be true to type, because they are clones.

I have a Tifblue and a Brightwell, both of which are Rabbiteye varieties, well suited to Gauteng’s warm weather and quite vigorous growers. This is the growth comparison shot of 23 November 2014 and 05 Jan 2015.

Brightwell blueberry on the left and Tifblue on the right, showing growth between November 2014 & Jan 2015.

Brightwell blueberry on the left and Tifblue on the right, showing growth between November 2014 & Jan 2015.

The Brightwell (above on the left) produced a lot more vegetative growth and new stems on the existing structure. Some sort of leaf roller pest got to the top few leaflets, but I unrolled them and wiped it off. I haven’t sprayed them with anything as yet. The Tifblue grew two new stems in a very short amount of time. They started off as tiny red shoots and sprang up in a matter of weeks to be as tall as the rest of the plant, but much thicker than the original twigs.

Tif comparison

I bought more blueberries later on, after making a few calls to find bigger plants. I kept two and gave two as gifts (including the one with Pa). The nursery didn’t have the variety labelled and they only sold this one type. Tsk tsk. I got them anyway because lots of them had fruit and they were slightly larger than the two I had.

One of my two mystery blueberries in November.

One of my two mystery blueberries in November.

I suspect in might be a Brigitta blueberry (not the ideal type for our climate) for a couple of reasons that I won’t bore you with. I will treat it as such, until I find evidence to the contrary. The 4 plants with friends and family are all doing well so far.

Misty blueberry plants growing well in Pretoria east

These are the well established plants at the nursery where I got my Tiffblue and Brightwell. The featured image at the top of this post is one of Brian’s Misty blueberries as well. These were not for sale unfortunately.

Misty blueberry at Brian's nursery, with a shoot at the edge and closeup of the unripe berries in November.

Misty blueberry at Brian’s nursery, with a shoot at the edge and closeup of the unripe berries in November.

Another one of Brian's. I don't recall if this was another Misty or a different variety.

Another one of Brian’s. I don’t recall if this was another Misty or a different variety.

A bit more detail about starting blueberries and their pollination

Get a plant or a cutting. Blueberries are generally not grown from seed, because they need stratification (seeds must be frozen, then thawed to mimic changes of seasons), the seeds take ages to germinate and up to 6 years to fruit. The berries produced will also not be the same variety you planted and may not taste good or have a decent size. This is because berries are produced from cross pollination of different varieties.

That brings us to the next point: You will need two or more varieties to get cross pollination and fruit. Without two varieties, you will have flowers but no fruit will develop. Very few varieties are reliably self fertile and all will benefit from a different variety nearby. Don’t believe the garden centre folks when they tell you that you only need one variety or two plants of the same variety (I was actually told this about pecan nuts & I had to school them).

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