It has been some time since I've written about my favorite fruit -- blueberries.
In the plant world, blueberries are truly a "user-friendly" bush. They are fairly low maintenance and already have been covered with pollinators this year. Blueberries are easy to grow, preferring the acidity of our Georgia soils. Additionally, they have very few pest problems and are easy to harvest.
There are several different types of blueberries that grow in Georgia. The southern highbush blueberry is grown commercially in south Georgia, and the northern highbush blueberry is best suited for the mountain region. For Middle Georgia gardeners, rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) are the best choice for home gardens.
One of the most important things to remember about rabbiteyes is that planting multiple varieties is necessary for cross pollination. These varieties are divided into categories depending on whether they ripen during the early season (Climax, Premier, Austin, Alapaha, Vernon and Titan), mid-season (Brightwell, Powderblue and Tifblue) or late season (Baldwin, Centurion and Ochlockonee).
Be sure to plant at least two different varieties from the same group to ensure good fruit set. To lengthen your harvest, choose varieties that ripen at different times during the season.
Blueberries grow large and should be planted with room to spread. It is recommended that they be planted with 4-6 feet between bushes and 8-12 feet between rows.
As I alluded to earlier, blueberry plants require an acidic soil, preferring a pH between 4.0 and 5.3. If your pH is higher (up to 6.0), sulfur can be incorporated into the soil six months prior to planting.
Soils with a pH above 6.0 will require large amounts of peat moss or milled pine bark amendments to lower the pH. It will likely be easier to simply pick another site for your bushes. Remember, proper pH is key for successful blueberry growth.
As with all plants, good site preparation will lead to healthier, happier blueberries. Till a bed at least 8 inches deep and 4 feet wide prior to digging the hole. In areas that have poor drainage, raised beds can alleviate problems such as root rot. Many of the commercial growers in south Georgia plant in raised beds due to a high water table.
Transplant blueberries to the same depth that they grew at the nursery. Mulch with 3-4 inches of pine bark. To promote root establishment, it is recommended that the blueberry bush be pruned at planting and the crops during the first couple of years be removed at fruit set.
Blueberries are an ideal fruit -- particularly for backyard gardeners. They have very few problems and seldom require spraying.
Although renewal pruning will be necessary as the bush matures, the severe pruning that is required for some fruits such as peaches, pears and apples is not necessary.
Blueberries are nutritious, fun to pick and freeze well for long-term storage. A final bonus offered by these plants is the good fall foliage color.
Master Gardeners of Central Georgia Spring Plant Sale: Noon-5 p.m. March 17; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. March 18; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. March 19, State Farmers Market, 2055 Eisenhower Parkway. Master Gardener-grown plants, shrubs and trees are available at bargain prices along with gardening advice and research-based information. Proceeds support scholarships, grants and educational programs throughout Middle Georgia. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Free admission.
Contact county Extension agent Karol Kelly at email@example.com.