There are so many fabulous fruits that we can grow in Spain and market stalls are bulging with it in all shapes, sizes and colours but there are two fruit plants that we sell a lot in the garden centre that are very rarely seen to buy fresh – blueberries and cranberries. Perhaps their rarity here makes them all the more 'to die for' and two healthier options would be hard to find.
Blueberries (arandanos): I admit that blueberries don't seem a very typical crop in Spain so it may surprise you to learn that Spain is the third largest producer of blueberries in the world. New varieties, many of them more heat tolerant, have greatly extended their growing areas.The two main areas of production, in Spain, are Asturias which, with its humid cooler climate seems logical, followed closely by Huelva where production has rocketed in the last 10 years. And that south west corner of Spain is not so very different to the areas where lots of us garden. If you want to have a go, make sure to get plants known as Southern Highbush which support warmer conditions and less hours of cold weather.
Soil needs to be well-drained but with generous additions of organic matter to improve humidity. A PH of less than 5.5 is necessary and, for that reason, many home-gardeners in our area choose to grow their plants in large pots. If you have acid conditions in your garden, then a spacing of around 0.75m with 2m between lines is ideal for big production. Wherever you plant, ensure that you gently spread the roots before backfilling. They are plants that need little in the way of fertilisation, especially in their early years, and it is best applied sparingly during springtime.
<span >Most of the soft fruits cause some pruning doubts. With blueberries it is important to bear in mind that old wood is less productive so prune yearly to improve cropping levels. Prune in winter, cutting out old branches and shortening back younger ones by about one third, maintaining a bushy plant with a minimum of eight main branches to the framework.An additional light pruning may be necessary after cropping. You can begin harvesting in the second year after planting increasing to a maximum production at around 6 years old. Good crops can be maintained for around 30 years, so your initial investment is well worth it!
<span >Blueberries have, of course, in recent years become very fashionable but with good reason as they are a real power house of vitamins and one of the fruits with the highest levels of anti-oxidants associated with prevention of heart disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases. They're also a good-looking shrub and can be very decorative in pots. Use an acidic compost – one that is suitable for azaleas – and position your plants in the sun (a minimum of 6 hours daily), moving them to a little more shade during the summer. Their shallow, fibrous roots need regular watering, preferably with rainwater, but do not keep them sodden. Insect attack is rare – your biggest problem may be birds who love the berries too!
<span >Most varieties are partly self-fertile which means that you will get fruits from one plant but the yield will be much better if you have two or more.
<span >Cranberries (arandanosagrios):<span >These tangy berries are rich in vitamin C and their juice is excellent in the prevention or treatment of all types of urinary tract infections. The plants are extremely attractive, low-growing little shrublets with bronzed new foliage, delicate pale-pink spring flowers, attractive autumnal colouring and those delicious crimson berries in the winter. They thrive in damp acid soil – now I can hear you all screaming –' impossible'! So, how about in a large pot? They look extremely pretty draped around the edges with, perhaps, an azalea, camellia or gardenia as the centrepiece. They all like similar conditions and life on the shady side. Or, if you really want to go in for mass production, dig out a shallow hollow in the garden, line it with perforated black plastic, backfill with an acid compost and plant. Being shallow rooted, you won't need to dig to any great depth. Pruning requirements are almost nil, just a light tidy-up after harvesting and, like blueberries, they don't want a lot of fertiliser.
Set your plants about 1m apart; you will need to have a little patience because plants won't come into production until they are two years old. Keep the moisture and PH levels correct and you won't have much problem. Cranberries will hold on the plant for many weeks and are also excellent frozen. They are quite prolific little plants but they do tend to tire themselves out after 5 years or so when they will need replacing.
And don't just save them for the turkey – they're far too good for that!
Lorraine Cavanagh has lived in Spain for 25 years. A landscape gardener and writer, she's always happy to give advice. Call and see her at ViverosFlorena, 2km from Cómpeta, (Malaga), down the Sayalonga Road, or 15km up from the coastal motorway – have a free coffee in their tea-rooms.
Her book Lorraine Cavanagh's Mediterranean Garden Plantshas been nicknamed 'the bible'. The new edition at €24.90 is now generally available throughout Spain.
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