AUBURN, Ala. – Blueberries are a healthy, delicious fruit. They can be baked into muffins and breads, added to cereal or eaten out of hand. They are one of the few plants that offer beauty and taste throughout most of the year. Rabbiteye blueberries are one of the easiest fruit for homeowners to grow.
Being native to the Southeastern United States, the rabbiteye blueberry is tolerant of the high temperatures of the region. It is found growing wild in southern Georgia, Alabama and the Florida panhandle.
The best time to plant blueberries is in late fall through late winter. Around the time the plant blooms, late-season frost or freeze can occur. The plant should be put in a place where it will be the least susceptible to frost damage.
Elina Coneva, an Alabama Extension specialist in commercial horticulture, said cross-pollination is needed to produce a good berry crop and takes place when more than one cultivar of blueberries is planted.
“By selecting several cultivars with various period of ripening, you can spread out the length of your harvest season,” Coneva said. “Blueberries on the same bush do not ripen all at once. One cultivar may have berries that mature over a four-to six-week period.”
Coneva said choosing the right site for planting is important.
“If you want your blueberry plant to produce a lot of fruit, select a site that is in full sun,” Coneva said. “Choose a site with well-aerated, well-drained soil high in organic matter.”
Growers should space plants at least 5 feet apart in a row. This will produce a hedgerow or border as the plants mature. If planting several rows of blueberries, growers should space them at least 10 to 12 feet apart. There are a few important things to remember when planting:
- Plant blueberries at the same depth they were grown in their containers.
- Do not pile soil on the base of the trunk.
- When planting an individual plant, make the hole at least twice as wide as the root ball.
- Add some form of organic matter to the soil in the planting hole or row. Compost is best, but finely ground pine bark will work, too.
- Thoroughly mix organic matter into the planting hole.
Blueberries need an acidic soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.2.
“If you are planting blueberries as a landscape shrub, combine them with other plants that thrive in acidic soil, such as azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias,” Coneva said.
Watering is crucial after planting, especially during the first year of growth.
“Water the plants thoroughly at planting and twice weekly for the first year until they are established. It is better to water the plants for a longer time once or twice per week than for a short time each day,” Coneva said. “Because blueberry plants have the ability to retract water from berries, adequate moisture, particularly during fruit production, is essential to producing plump, juicy berries.”
Alabama Extension has the publication Rabbiteye Blueberries that goes into detail about growing rabbiteye blueberries. For further information, contact your county Extension office.