Since its fruit ripens over a longer period, this blueberry variety will have a longer picking season. It is not unusual to have five pickings from such a plant, which is ideal for homeowners seeking to stretch out the harvest over several weeks. The commercial grower, to keep down the costs, would prefer to harvest all the fruit with only one or two pickings.
Five Different Types of Blueberries to Choose From
There are five main types of blueberry plants, and each type has many different varieties, or cultivars. The varieties listed on this page are here because they represent the best for consistent production of blueberries for fresh eating. Keep in mind these are our picks on the North Coast of California. Your taste and your climate and even your growing area may require a different cultivar.
When we built our apple shrub orchard, we chose varieties that would ripen early, mid-season and late so that we would have apple fruit throughout the season. It works the same way with blueberries. Planting several varieties allows you to choose those that ripen at different times which will thus prolong the harvest season.
The fruit's characteristics will also play a part in choosing the plants. Some varieties have firmer and smaller berries, making them ideal for baking. Since tastes are unique, it is not possible for us to suggest which types taste best for fresh eating. Conditions in your garden may also have an impact on the flavor, and even the different parts of a shrub's ripening period may alter the taste of a blueberry.
Some cultivars ripen all their fruit during a ten day span, others stretch out the harvest for a month or more. The ripening period may not be even, some varieties come on strong and slowly give up the rest. Figure on two plants per person, but keep in mind that berries come in all sizes from peas to cherries, and that a long ripening season means only a few of the berries on each plant will be ready for harvest at a time (like in the picture above). Mature bushes will provide anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds of fruit, more if grown properly. Most blueberry cultivars are self-fertile, but cross-pollination increases the crop.
When are they ready to pick? Don't be in a rush to pick them when they turn blue, wait a few days. Cup your hand underneath the berries and use your thumb to lightly rake the berries off the plant and into your hand. If they do not come off easily they are not yet ready. After a few harvests and tastes you will know the best time to pick your berries.
Northern Highbush, High Chill Varieties (Vaccinium corymbosum)
The most popular and most widely planted blueberries are the Northern Highbush blueberries, and the type boasts of over a hundred different varieties. These are the plants that most nurseries carry and the ones that are most planted.
Mature plants are usually four- to six-foot tall bushes that may have different shapes and spreading characteristics. It is common to harvest ten or more pounds of berries from a well-grown mature plant. To initiate flower buds, the Northern Highbush requires a chilling period of about 800 to 1000 hours below 45°F. All of coastal Northern California qualifies, as well as all areas to the north. Plan on two shrubs per person. We have had an excellent harvest by acquiring the plants in the order shown below to give us the longest fruit season possible. Got room? Get the first five.
|Chandler||Mid to Late||If you have room for only one plant, this is the one. It carries probably the largest blueberry, sometimes the size of a cherry. Chandler has a five-week-long ripening season, which means fewer ripe berries at any time so you may need to plant an extra one.|
|Darrow||Late||For your second variety choose another of the large blueberries. Darrow fruit is juicy and robust, aromatic and highly flavored. The vigorous shrub ripens its fruit late with a three-week-long fruiting period.|
|Reka||Early||Reka ripens during the middle of the early harvest period which will extend your harvest two to three weeks on the earlier end. This cultivar adapts well to different climates and soils.|
|Earliblue||Very Early||Earliblue has only a short two-week ripening period, but these are the highly-anticipated first blueberries of the season! This gorgeous landscape plant delivers large sweet berries. Plant where blueberries are well suited and avoid frost pockets.|
|Elliot||Very Late||Elliot blueberries finish up the fall season with a four-week-long harvest of large zesty flavored fruit.|
|Duke||Early||Here is a heavy and consistent producer of light blue berries with a mildly sweet flavor, firm and retaining its fresh quality longer than most varieties. This shrub may bear so heavily that the canes will need support.|
|Bluecrop||Mid||Probably the most widely planted blueberry in the country, Bluecrop is an all around variety that grows well and produces consistent yields of large blueberries. This is the leading commercial variety. Its ripening season lasts about three weeks. We find that the fruit is a bit sweeter 5 to 7 days after it looks ripe.|
Southern Highbush, Low Chill Varieties (Vaccinium corymbosum h.)
The low chill varieties are for more southerly gardeners where the climate does not offer sufficient chilling for the Northern Highbush types. They are included here because they also grow well here on California's North Coast. Typical sizes and shapes are mostly the same as the Northern Highbush plants. Berries are improved if two varieties are planted together.
|Sunshine Blue||Mid to Late||The Sunshine Blue plant is excellent for your patio. It is a smaller 3 foot high, compact plant which does very well in a container such as a half barrel. Buy two!|
|O'Neal||Early||One of the best flavored Southern Highbush with excellent quality throughout the entire harvest. O'Neal yields a compatible harvest with the Northern Highbush varieties. An acid soil is a must for this plant.|
Half-High, High Chill Varieties (Vaccinium corymbosum x V. angustifolium)
These blueberries are crosses between the Northern Highbush and Lowbush and are suited for colder areas and higher inland elevations. They are generally short and stocky shrubs that can better handle a snow load. Chilling requirements are 1,000 to 1,200 hours under 45F, and the berries taste more like the ones found in the wild. This type does not set as much fruit as the Highbush and will yield higher production with another pollinator.
|Chippewa||Mid||Chippewa plants bear large blueberries and are quite at home in a half-barrel.|
|Polaris||Early||An excellent pollinator for other cold hardy varieties, it produces sweet berries.|
Wild Lowbush, High Chill Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium sp.)
These are Eastern North American natives, composed of low, spreading bushes. The fruit is the size of a small pea. You may find these in the nurseries and garden centers, and these are commonly used as a dense ground cover and to attract wildlife.
Rabbiteye Blueberries (Vaccinium ashei)
Rabbiteye blueberries are popular in the southeastern US. This is a low-chill type and some cultivars may grow to be 20 feet high. They can handle a bit of drought and do not require as much organic material in the soil as Highbush berries. Rabbiteye would be comfortable in inland Southern California. Me too, but I would miss Humboldt. Can't wait to get out of here when you graduate and then you can't wait to get back...
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