There are three main types of cultivated blueberries that can be grown, Rabbiteye, Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush. Here in South Carolina, Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush are the recommended varieties. The Northern Highbush is more suited for major areas of production in the upper South(Arkansas), Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
The Southern Highbush Blueberry is a relatively new type of Blueberry and is a hybrid of the Northern Highbush and native Southern species, mainly Darrow's evergreen Blueberry.
Depending on where you live will determine which is the best for you to grow. Check with your local extension agent to find out.
Here in the Lowcountry, the best varieties are:
Early season cultivars:
Climax: Plants require 450 chilling hours. This cultivar has a concentrated fruit set with small to medium sized fruit. Recommended cross-pollination with Premier or Austin.
Vernon: PP19291. Requires 450 hours of chilling. Flowers 7 days after Climax, but ripens before Premier. Fruit are large, firmness is excellent, and have good flavor and color. Recommended cross-pollination with Alapaha.
Alapaha: PP16266. Requires 450 to 500 chilling hours. This cultivar has a medium-size fruit with good firmness and flavor. Flowers 7 to 10 days after Climax, which helps avoid spring freeze damage to flowers. Recommended cross-pollination with Vernon.
Austin: Plants require 500 chilling hours. Plants are productive and produce medium-large berries. Recommended cross-pollination with Climax or Premier.
Premier: Requires 550 chilling hours. Plants produce medium to large sized fruit. Recommended cross-pollination with Austin or Alapaha.
Brightwell: Requires 400 chilling hours. Fruits are medium to large in size but may split during wet weather. Recommended cross-pollination with Austin or Premier.
Powderblue: Plants require 600 chilling hours. Plants have good production of medium-sized, light blue fruit. Recommended cross-pollination with Tifblue or Brightwell.
Tifblue: Requires 650 chilling hours. Plants produce small to medium size fruit, which must get fully ripe or they will be tart.
Late season cultivars:
Baldwin: This late maturing cultivar requires 450 to 500 chilling hours. The plants have moderate yield and high vigor. The fruit are large, of good quality and very dark blue color. Cross-pollinate with Brightwell, Powderblue, and Centurian.
Centurian: Centurian plants need 550 to 600 chilling hours for fruiting. The fruit is very good quality, medium-sized, firm, and darkish-blue. The fruit may crack with heavy rainfall. Pollinate with Brightwell, Ochlockonee, and Powderblue.
Ochlockonee: PP17300. Requires 650 to 700 chilling hours. This cultivar is very productive with fruit larger than Tifblue. The fruit has good color, firmness, and flavor. Recommended cross-pollination with Powderblue.
Onslow: This cultivar has fruit slightly larger and darker than Powderblue. For fruiting, the plants require 500 to 600 chilling hours. The plants are productive and vigorous. It has been reported that Onslow may tolerate soils of a higher pH than other cultivars. The fruit is large, with very good firmness and a medium blue color.
However, for the most part, they all require the same general cultivation, just watch your chill hours.
To start, this is a great time to stress one of the Master Gardeners all time mantras...Have your soil tested! Especially if you are going to plant Blueberries.
They must have a very acidic soil, with a pH of 4.8 to 5.5. To give you a point of reference, 7.0 is considered neutral. The soil pH scale commonly in use ranges from 0 to 14. As examples of either end, Lemon Juice and Vinegar are on the acid side, Baking soda and Milk of Magnesia is on the alkaline side. I won't get into the really technical data here, just remember, that Blueberries like it on the acidic side. If you have any doubts about your soil, you can always add a heap of peat moss and mix it into your backfill.
Blueberry plants require excellent soil drainage. Not sure if your spot has good drainage? Here is an easy little trick. Dig a hole or holes, 6 to 8 inches deep and fill them with water. The water should not remain in the hole for more than 24 hrs, if it does, select another site or plant them on raised beds. Just as a side note, Blueberries can be grown in large containers, this is a VERY easy way to control the soil pH. After creating the raised beds, check for drainage again. With this type of planting, you are still going to need to water thoroughly two to three times per week during dry spells in the Summer and early Fall. The soil should be moist to damp at all times, just not wet...that is an invitation to root rot.
Full sun is best. This is usually anywhere from 8-10 hours, or more. Blueberries can be grown in areas that do not receive this much light, but the harvest will suffer dramatically.
When it comes to feeding your Blueberries, they are easily damaged by excess fertilizer. Apply the recommended amount from your soil test report and allow 4 inches of rain or an equivalent amount of irrigation between applications. A balanced fertilizer of 10-10-10 or something labeled for acidic plants is best.
Blueberries are produced from buds on 1-year-old wood, pruning should be severe enough to encourage the production of vigorous new growth each year. With this being said, however, during the first five years, little pruning will be required. You will want to remove the lower twiggy growth, dead or damaged shoots, and weak, spindly growth during this time.
With good care, mature plants should produce more than 10 lbs each year. That much fruit production is a good thing because you will have competition for the berries. Birds love Blueberries too. They can consume the entire crop from a small planting. Plastic or cloth netting draped over the bushes or supported on a framework, while the fruit is ripening, is the only practical control. Please don't use the old CD or pie plate on strings as a deterrent, they only laugh at those. And scarecrows? They usually end up being given pet names by the birds and then mocked. Netting really is the only good deterrent.
Something else to consider is mulching. This is the best form of weed control.
Blueberries may also be troubled by fungal leaf spots, fruit rots, root rot and gray mold. The primary insect problems are cranberry fruitworm (which ties the berry clusters together with silk), Japanese beetles and the Oberea stem borer.
Fungicides labeled for Blueberries will take care of the fungal problems, and insecticidal soaps or insecticides labeled for Blueberries will handle the bugs. ALWAYS read the label, I have said it before and I will say it again, IT IS THE LAW!
You will get the best quality of fruit when it is picked every 5 to 7 days, depending upon temperature, the warmer the temps, the more often you need to pick.
This has been a very brief description of growing Blueberries. I hope I have spurred you on to read more about these tasty treats. I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. If you have any questions or would like more in-depth information, please feel free to e-mail me, TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com.
As for my niece, Sarah, I hope to have a little surprise for her in a couple of years. Yes, she loves her Blueberries and as a loving uncle, I want to give her all she wants. What she doesn't know is, I have a variety that I am growing that, while they are called Blueberries, and they are supposed to taste like them, they sure don't LOOK like them. Introducing, Pink Lemonade Blueberries.
Feel free to ask me questions about this, or any of my other articles, e-mail is TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com
I can be found on my WEBSITE or FACEBOOK as The Citrus Guy.