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The best blueberries to grow in North Central Florida

Row of ten blueberry bushes. Notice the heavy mulch around the plants.
Row of ten blueberry bushes. Notice the heavy mulch around the plants.
Brian Harfe

Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. To many northerners surprise, blueberries grow exceptional well in Florida. Blueberry plants in Florida, depending on the variety, produce fruit from April through July. For fruit to be produced, blueberry plants require cool temperatures. The key to growing blueberries in Florida is to choose appropriate varieties that reliably produce fruit even after mild winters. Two kinds of blueberries that have “low chill” requirements have been developed for Florida.

Southern Highbush Blueberries: These are the earliest type of blueberry to ripen in all of North America. The drawback to growing southern highbush blueberries is that a late frost can kill all the flowers resulting in loss of the entire years crop. Some easy-to-find varieties include:

“Jewel”, “Sharpblue” and “Emerald” (from the University of Florida) – Berries ripen in mid-April. Jewel is one of the earliest plants to produce fruit in the United States. Sharpblue ripens around 10 days after Jewel.

Rabbiteye Blueberries: This class of blueberries is easier to grow than Southern Highbush blueberries since they are more drought tolerant and less susceptible to disease. Rabbiteye plants flower later than Southern Highbush which allows the below varieties to usually avoid a late winter freeze.

“Beckyblue”, “Bonita” and “Climax” – These are “early” season Rabbiteye cultivars and fruit ripens in early May through June in North Central Florida. “Brightwell”, “Powderblue”, “Tifblue” and “Woodard” are “late” season Rabbiteye cultivars and fruit ripens through early July.

There are two keys to growing blueberries. The first is to plant a number of different varieties of plants of the same cultivars because blueberries require cross-pollination for fruit to set. An added advantage of planting a number of different varieties is that the harvest season will be extended. The second is to extensively use mulch when planting new plants and around established plants. Blueberry plants love acidic soil, which can be enhanced by the addition of mulch. New plants can be planted in a hole containing a mixture of soil and mulch and established plants should be extensively mulched. Planting blueberries near pine trees can also aid in plant health since pine needles, like mulch, are an excellent source of acidic organic matter.

Rabbit eye blueberries, when mature can reach 12-15 feet high and 8-10 feet in diameter. Southern highbush blueberries tend to grow slower and reach heights of ~6 feet.

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