Blueberries are one of the few fruit crops in production today that are native to Georgia. They are easy to grow, require minimal maintenance, and are relatively free of any significant pests. The plants have a multitude of uses in the landscape: they can be used as a hedge to screen out unsightly views, to line driveways and sides of homes, and to serve as a barrier. Most importantly, blueberries provide delicious fruit during the summer months and have many culinary uses.
There are three types of blueberries grown in Georgia: northern highbush, southern highbush, and rabbiteye blueberries. The southern highbush and northern highbush blueberries require higher levels of maintenance, are produced commercially, and are not recommended for the homeowner in the Atlan-ta area. Rabbiteye blueberries are the most adaptable, productive and pest-free of the three. Early season varieties of rabbiteye blueberries include ‘Climax’ and ‘Premier,’ mid-season varieties include ‘Brightwell,’ ‘Austin,’ and ‘Powderblue,’ and late season varieties include ‘Delite,’ and ‘Tiftblue.’ Blueberries are not self-fruitful meaning they require the planting of a minimum of two different varieties that bloom at the same time for the plants to pollinate and set fruit.
When planting, dig a hole that is two to three times the width of the rootball and no deeper than the top of it. Mix in some organic matter such as peat moss, topsoil or compost. Fill the material back into the hole and pack down tightly. Ensure the plants receive adequate water while they become established. Do not apply fertilizer immediately after planting. Apply three inches of pine bark or pine straw mulch around them.
Blueberries require six to eight hours of sun a day and well-drained soils. The plants grow best in acidic soils with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. If the soil is above this range, apply wettable sulfur (90 percent sulfur) or ammonium sulfate fertilizer to the soil. Unless a soil test is taken, after the new growth appears in March, apply one ounce per foot of bush height of an all-purpose fertilizer such as 12-4-8, 10-10-10, or one that is specific for acid-loving plants. Re-fertilize again in June. Spread the fertilizer evenly beneath the plants. Consider having your soil tested for its pH and nutrient content. The UGA Extension Gwinnett charges $8.00 per sample.
Blueberries produce their fruit from buds on one-year-old wood, so they should be pruned enough to encourage the production of vigorous new growth each year. For the first five years after planting, minimal pruning will be required. Remove the low spreading branches and those growing through the center of the bush, especially weak and older branches. After a few years of growth, if the plants become too large for ease of harvest, remove one-third of the older stems during the dormant season to improve light and air penetration.
Blueberries, if planted and maintained correctly, are a relatively easy fruit to grow. An excellent opportunity to purchase blueberries and some other excellent plants at great prices is available through the 2019 Annual UGA Extension Plant Sale. For information on the sale, go to the Gwinnett County Extension website at http://extension.uga.edu/gwinnett or contact the Gwinnett County Extension office to have an order form mailed to you.
Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be contacted at 678-377-4011or firstname.lastname@example.org