The blueberry is a highly specialized crop. It has exacting soil and climatic needs. Its cultural requirements differ from other fruits. The initial cost of establishing a planting are high, and the first full crops occur 5 to 7 years after planting. No crop is picked the first 2 years. In the 3rd year, 400 to 800 lbs. to an acre are produced, and in the 4th year, 1,400 to 2,000 lbs. to an acre. Full crops of 2 to 3 tons to an acre (4 to 6 pints to a bush) can occur as early as the 5th year and should be expected by the 8th year.
Site Selection -- The blueberry grows best on sites where most other crops fail. They perform best on loose textured soils--mixtures of sand and peat are best. Choose very acid soils ranging from pH 4.5 to 5.5. Avoid soils testing higher than pH 5.5 for commercial planting. Constant but moderate soil moisture is needed by the blueberry. Best soils are those where the water table remains within 14" to 22" below the surface. Good surface drainage is very important since blueberry roots need plenty of aeration. Water remaining on the surface for more than a day during any part of the growing season is harmful to roots.
Planting & Pruning -- Newly-cleared land is best for planting since it usually contains more organic matter. Thoroughly work the soil for at least 2 years proceeding planting to subdue weeds and grasses. Add lime if the soil tests below pH 4.5 Add sulfur to soils testing above pH 5.5 to acidify problem areas.
When planting use 2 to 3 year old plants. Avoid plants older than 3 years for commercial planting. Plant early in the Spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Space plants 4' apart in rows 10' apart. Set plants at the same depth as grown in the nursery. Mix a shovelful of acid peat with the soil in each planting hole when setting in sandy soils low in organic matter. Remove fruit buds, either before or soon after setting the plants. Cultivated berries are self fertile. However, if you want a long harvest season, plant 2 or 3 varieties ripening in succession. Experiments indicate berries may be larger and slightly earlier- maturing when cross-pollination does occur. Most blueberry roots are close to the soil surface. Cultivate no deeper than 2 to 3 inches and only often enough to keep weeds in check. The blueberry needs annual pruning. Remove the small, spindly growth near the base of the plant. This will promote a more upright bush and keep the fruit away from the ground. Prune to remove dead and injured branches, fruiting branches close to the ground, spindly, bushy twigs on mature branches, and old stems or parts low in vigor. Blueberry bushes which are pruned moderately each year produce larger berries, and tends to make the fruit ripen faster. Prune during dormancy, after the leaves have dropped in the fall, and during winter until buds swell in the spring. Use pine or oak sawdust that has been aged for two years for mulch.
MIDWEST & EASTERN VARIETIES
Blue Goes Pink!
Pink Lemonade - NEW!
Performs equally well or better in milder climates including areas where rabbiteye cultivars can be grown. Mid to late season ripening with moderate yields. Berries are medium sized with good firmness and deep pink when ripe. Excellent as landscape plant as it offers four season interest. In spring the shrub sports pinkish-white showy bell-shaped flowers. The fruits are pale greenish at first, then dappled pink, and finally develop a deep pink color indicating a ripened fruit. In fall, the leaves turn a bright orange fading to deep red. Wintertime twigs are dusky reddish-brown. Soil requirements are the same as other blueberries. Hardy to Zone 4.
Ripens early mid season, just after Blueray. The fruit is large with small scar, has excellent color, firmness and good flavor. Its foliage is somewhat sparse but production is good. This berry is suitable for mechanical harvest. It is also the most popular variety in New Jersey and second most popular in Michigan. Has a large harvest period.
Released by a Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, it is a mid season berry (about the same as Northland). The fruit is medium sized with long stems that aid in the mechanical harvesting. The bush is vigorous and upright.
An early mid season berry. It ripens a few days ahead of Bluecrop. The fruit is very large and firm, and has a fair scar. It produces an aromatic flavor. The clusters are large and very tight. The bush is vigorous and productive. This berry is popular for the u-pick trade, but doesn't machine harvest well. Similar to Bluecrop but somewhat sweeter.
From Michigan State University, a mid-late new variety with very good hardiness and very good productivity. Berries are the largest on the market and generally the size of a quarter to half dollar.
Very early ripening, prior to Spartan. A vigorous, upright bush with consistently high yields. It is the most widely planted early ripening highbush variety. It blooms later than other varieties but ripens early which protects the fruit from late spring frosts. The medium sized fruit has good color and firmness and grows in open clusters which makes harvesting easier.
This late season berry ripens two weeks after Jersey. The fruit is medium size, firm light blue and has good flavor. The bush is vigorous, upright, winter hardy and productive. It is suitable for mechanical harvesting.
A late mid season berry. The fruit is medium sized, has medium scar, fair color, fair flavor and is firm. The bush is very vigorous and productive. The clusters are long and loose. It is suitable for mechanical harvesting, and is the most widely planted variety in Michigan.
The Nelson was released by USDA in 1989. It ripens mid season with Berkeley. The fruit is large, firm, light blue, has good flavor and scar. The bush is vigorous, upright, and is suitable for commercial and pick-you-own harvest. Yields have been high in test planting at Grand Junction, Michigan.
A very early variety that ripens a few days prior to Blueray. Fruit is medium size, medium scar and medium firm with a wild berry flavor. It has limber branches which do not break under heavy snow loads and adapts well to the sub zero climate. The bush is a vigorous spreader and very productive. Recommended for northern areas where other varieties don't grow as well.
An early season berry which ripens ahead of Blueray, and about the same time as Northland. The fruit is large, small scarred with good color, and has very good flavor. The bush is vigorous, upright and relatively open. Tests have proved it is very winter hardy. Recommended for trial in commercial production. It is tolerant or resistant to some strains of Phytophthora cinnamomi, a soil fungus that causes root rot. Can be planted in wet clay soil.
Ripens at the beginning of the mid-season varieties just ahead of Bluecrop. Berries are medium size with good color, flavor and firmness. Try this variety wherever highbush plants are grown. Bushes are vigorous, upright and very productive and adaptable to many soil types.
An early season berry, it ripens just ahead of Patriot. It has large, firm fruit, light blue in color and has excellent flavor. The bush is vigorous, upright and open, and productive. Suitable for machine harvest. Early season ripening and the large size fruit make this variety very desirable for the pick-your-own trade.
MINNESOTA LOWBUSH, HIGHBUSH HYBRIDS
It ripens early ahead of Northblue. The berries are very light blue, sweet and mild, typical of the lowbush clones. The blueberry bush is vigorous, heavily branched, growing 36-40 inches tall.
The Northsky ripens early with Northblue. The berries are medium in size and sky blue. The bush has short stature, approximately 10 to 18 inches tall. The plants are dense, with glossy dark green summer foliage that turns dark red in the fall.
Northcountry and Northsky were developed by the University of Minnesota to provide plants that would have snow cover to protect the wood and buds against the harsh winters. When not covered with snow they may have the same winter injury as other varieties. They are attractive as landscape plants as well as producing fruit--not recommended for mechanical harvesting.
Rabbiteye blueberries (Vacinium ashei) are native to the southern United States. Rabbiteye are generally taller than their northern highbush cousins and are commonly planted on 12 ft. row centers with bushes 5 to 7 feet apart down the row. Although rabbiteye blueberries are recommended for planting in zones 7-9 they have been successfully grown as far north as Kentucky. Two different varieties need to be planted for cross pollination and fruit set. Cultural needs for rabbiteye are similar to highbush.
Very large, light blue, high quality fruit is picked during the early rabbiteye season which is late May in northern Florida. The bush will grow to be 6-10 feet tall. Bright green foliage during the summer makes Premier a wonderful ornamental hedge.
High yielder of dark blue high quality large berries. Bush is similar in size to Premier but has a more spreading growth habit. Berries tend to ripen uniformly in the early rabbiteye season.