Monday, January 7, 2013

Time to Plant the Blueberries

A Duval County master gardener is in the Times-Union newsroom from 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays to answer questions from readers. The number to call is (904) 359-4199. Readers outside the Jacksonville area can call (800) 472-6397 and ask for extension 4199. Their articles appear in the Saturday Life section. 

Here is Tom Bruton's November 30, 2012 article about growing blueberries: 

U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council  Highbush blueberries bloom early, can be damaged by late freeze.  Can you give me some info about growing blueberries? Can I plant them now?

The best time to plant blueberries is from mid-December to mid-February. Bare-root or container-grown plants can be used. Two types of blueberries are grown in Florida, rabbiteye (Vaccinium virgatum) and southern highbush (interspecific hybrids of V. darrowiiV. virgatum, and V. corymbosum). However, only the low-chill cultivars of each are adapted to Florida. Rabbiteyes are better for our area than highbush because highbush bloom early and are frequently damaged by late freezes.  

Southern highbush cultivars include Emerald, Jewel, Star, Windsor, Springhigh, Sweetcrisp and Farthing. Rabbiteye cultivars include Beckyblue, Bonita and Climax.

Blueberries require a soil pH of 4.0–5.5. A soil test is needed to measure the soil pH and can help to determine whether acidification of the soil is necessary.

Blueberries require a well-drained soil of at least 18 inches in depth. Both rabbiteye and Southern highbush thrive on acidic soils, which contain more organic matter than is usually found in Florida soils. Peat moss can be incorporated into the soil at or prior to planting. Set plants in a sunny area. A mature rabbiteye blueberry plant can reach 12-15 feet in height with canes sprouting over an area of 8-10 feet in diameter. Blueberries should be pruned at the time of planting.

Most blueberry cultivars grown in Florida are self-unfruitful; they require cross-pollination from another cultivar of the same type (Southern highbush with Southern highbush and rabbiteye with rabbiteye). With good pollination, berry yields of 2-5 pounds per plant may be expected by the third or fourth year.

Blueberries respond best to frequent, light fertilization. They can be killed or damaged by over-fertilization. For more detailed information about growing blueberries in Florida go to: www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg359.


Tom Bruton is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.