Care of Southern Highbush Blueberries
Jubilee was developed in Mississippi, where it has distinguished itself by performing well in heavier soils through summer heat and sudden winter cold. We especially like the upright, compact bush and the easy-picking bountiful crops of sky blue berries presented over the outer periphery of the bush. Jubilee berries are medium sized and especially tasty, growing in large clusters that ripen over a two week period. Fall foliage is yellow orange. Jubilee is recommended throughout the South and in California in areas that receive at least 500 chilling hours.
Misty is one of the most attractive southern high bush varieties. The bright blue-green foliage provides a perfect contrast to the pink and white spring flowers and sky blue summer fruit. The berries are medium to large size and of excellent quality. Growers especially like Misty's evergreen tendency in areas with mild winters. Yields best when planted with other blueberries. Chilling needs are very low (300 hours) but don't hesitate to offer it in the north, all the way to Seattle.
Sharpblue is the leading and most adaptable variety in low chill areas throughout the world. This stalky, vigorous bush can grow to over six feet in optimal sites. In milder zones with fewer than 500 chilling hours, Sharpblue will bloom and fruit almost year-around and the bush will be nearly evergreen. The berries are dark blue, about the size of a dime, with excellent flavor and texture. We recommend Sharpblue in areas with mild winters where hard frosts are uncommon.
Oneal features medium large and medium dark blue fruit of terrific quality. It is considered by many to have the best flavor of all the southern high bush blueberries. The bush is of medium vigor with a spreading habit to 5 feet. Foliage is an attractive grey-green in summer accented with red stems and branches. Oneal has a suggested chilling requirement of 400-500 hours.
If your customers are asking for exceptional berries with superior flavor, then we heartily recommend our new introduction, Southmoon. The bush is vigorous and upright and does especially well in lighter sandy soils or with generous additions of organic matter. This Florida native is performing well in California, both inland and on the coast, where chilling hours reach 500. We believe that it will become a favorite for southern gardeners. Fall Creek is developer and licensee of Southmoon.
These are hybrids of blueberries which grew wild when European settlers first arrived in the New World. New Southern Highbush cultivars were developed to grow in California and other climates with low chill hours. Blueberry plants make an excellent addition to edible landscapes. They have dark blue green foliage and attractive pink or white blooms.
As a guideline, plant two plants for each blueberry loving family member. Plants can be planted as individual specimens or spaced about 2 feet apart to create a hedge. See varieties for heights and ripening times.
Planting In Containers
For optimum control of soil factors, it is strongly recommended to plant in containers. The potting mix should be acidic, (pH 4.5-5.5) high in organic matter and well draining.
Recommended mix components include-
60%-80% ground and screened conifer bark, 10-30% peat moss, 10% Perlite or sand. After planting, keep the soil moist and mulch with bark, acid compost or sawdust.
Planting In the Ground
Blueberries can be planted in the ground. Blueberry plants require abundant light and good air circulation so select your site accordingly. Work up a planting area 2 feet in diameter and one foot deep. Remove one third to one half of the soil. Add an equal amount of pre-moistened peat moss and mix well. One 4 cubic foot compressed bale will be sufficient for 4 - 5 plants. To conserve moisture and promote living soil structure, mulch with bark, pine needles, acid compost, or sawdust. If soil is poor or doesn't drain well, raised beds are effective. Most soils will require amendments to maintain acidity. Pine needle mulch or sulfur granules can be used to maintain acidity levels.
Blueberries require more water than many other garden plants. Keep soil moist.
Pruning blueberry bushes to reduce the number of flowers and developing fruit will improve berry size and hasten development. Allow the plants to get well established in the first year by pinching off flower buds.
Thereafter each winter:
- Remove low growth around the base. If it doesn't grow up, prune it out!
- Remove dead wood and non vigorous twiggy wood. Select bright colored wood with long laterals. Remove blotchy colored short growth.
- If 1/3 of the wood has not been removed by the above steps, thin out the fruiting laterals and small branches until the balance has been obtained.
- As plants get older, prune to select 4-6 bright colored erect canes per bush. Prune these canes in October down to a height of 2-3 ft.
Blueberries like acid fertilizers such as Azalea formulations. But be very careful not to use nitrogen in a NITRATE form!! For newly planted stock, use 2 tablespoons of 10-20-10 or similar fertilizer in late spring or once plants are established. Follow manufacturer's directions. For Organic fertilizers, use blood meal and cottonseed meal, and prepared compost. Avoid fresh manures. Blueberries are very sensitive to over-fertilization. Stop fertilizing by October, or the time of onset of cooler fall weather. Resume fertilizing in spring after blueberries have leafed out (around March 15).