Growing Soft Fruits in Acid Soil
ACID SOIL FRUITS
It remains something of a mystery to one why the acidfruits should be so much more popular in North America than in Britain and continental Europe. Surely it can’t be that there are proportionately more gardens with acid soils in the US. Whatever the answer, there is certainly no reason why any garden with peaty, naturally acid soil (especially in milder, wetter areas) shouldn’t grow at least the two most popular types, blueberries and cranberries.
But I do have to say that if your garden soil isn’t already on the acid side of neutral, please don’t be tempted to add tons of peat or sulphur or to try and render it so.
HISTORY AND TYPES OF ACID SOIL FRUIT
Although they are very different in appearance, both blueberries and cranberries belong to the same genus, , in that classic acid soil plant family, the Ericaceae. It is also however a group of plants in which the common names have become very confusing, with the same name used for more than one species.
The blueberry that interests us here is. Because of its size, it is sometimes called the to distinguish it from lower-growing types. It is native to the eastern United States, where a related species Vaccinium australe has been hybridized with it. The highbush blueberry reaches about 3.5m (11ft) in height and although the fruits were collected from the wild in North America by both native Americans and European settlers, their cultivation didn’t really begin seriously until the early years of the present century. Much breeding has been performed since and some of the newer varieties have far greater cold tolerance.
The cranberry is at the other end of the size spectrum being a wiry, creeping plant. There are wild European cranberries, most notably Vaccinium oxycoccos and Vaccinium vitis-idaea, but they are small-fruited and not commonly grown in gardens. The cultivated varieties have all arisen during the present century and are derived from the larger and more juicy-fruited American cranberry Vaccinium macrocarpon. Cranberries are an important commercial crop in the United States but are more difficult than blueberries to grow well in gardens.
In passing, I should add that the fruits of a related group of plants, in the genus Gaylussacia, are popularly collected from the wild in North America and sometimes grown in American gardens.