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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
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.
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.
Ripens late mid-season, excellent light blue, large firm berries with small scar. High yields, for hand harvest, for fresh and U-Pick markets. Upright growth, slightly spreading and branched well, bush height 5-6 feet at maturity. (Zones: 5-8)
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.
Patented from the Michigan State University ripens, early mid-season delicious flavored, moderately large powder blue firm berries with small scar. Vigorous and upright growth, moderately branched with exposed fruit, height at maturity 5 feet. Recommended to not harvest this fruit within 24 hours after a rainfall, tearing of the skin around the scar will occur. Berries for fresh market can be accomplished by mechanical or hand harvest. The plants have exhibited good vigor in most soil types except heavy clay. (Zones 5-8)
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
Delicious and Unique! Not a new variety but newly introduced. Razz ripens just slightly later than Bluecrop and is similar in size. If you are looking for something different - Razz is the blueberry for you! It definitely has a raspberry flavor which is where it gets its name. Sure to be a hit at the Farmers Market! Fruit is somewhat softer than other varieties and continues to soften after picking therefore not recommended for commercial growers.
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.
Dwarf Blueberry. Developed by Michigan State is peferct for container gardeing. Compact plant size at 2ft by 2ft; with full size, firm, flavorful fruits. perfect for fresh eating. Ripens late season (Zone 5-7)
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.
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
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.
NC State University a late ripening rabbiteye cultivar with large, medium blue, sweet aromatic berries when fully ripe with dry picking scar. Great for fresh market, can be hand or mechanical harvested. Upright narrow bush 5-6 feet at maturity. Onslow is self-pollinating but with enhanced fruit set if pollinated with Powderblue. Adaptable to a wide variety of soil types and can tolerate soils that are slightly high in pH. (Zones 7-8)
NC State University a late ripening rabbiteye cultivar with large, very good, firm power blue fruit. Hand harvest recommended for fresh market and U-pick markets. Upright vigorous growth with a height of 8-12 feet at maturity. For optimum fruit set pollinate with Onslow. (Zones 7-9)
SOUTHERN HIGHBUSH (Low Chill)
Southern Highbush blueberries are low chill plants that offer gardeners in the south a chance to enjoy blueberries similar to those grown in northern regions. Southern Highbush is specifically developed for great blueberry flavor, heat tolerance, soil adaptability and low winter chilling. Self-fertile plants to do not require another variety but, two varieties can be beneficial in fruit production. Depending on the location early Southern Highbush can begin ripening in May.
Developed by North Carolina State, large sized, excellent flavored, light blue fruit, ripens early mid-season. Plant height at maturity 5½ to 6 feet, semi upright. (Zone 6-9)
Developed by North Carolina State, medium sized, excellent flavored fruit ripens early mid-season. Plant height at maturity 4½ feet, upright. (Zone 6-9)