Gardening with Rabbiteye Blueberries
Rabbiteye blueberries are the Vaccinium of choice for u-pick and market growers in north Florida as they are less susceptible to late winter or early spring freezes than southern highbush blueberries due to the fact that they produce fruit a bit later in the season. They are also preferred to southern highbush because they are less susceptible to Phytophthora root rot, require less organic matter in the soil, are more drought tolerant and more vigorous. Their harvest season extends from May to July, depending on the variety selected. Rabbiteye’s require cross-pollination with another rabbiteye variety to produce adequate fruit set. Early season varieties include ‘Beckyblue’, ‘Bonita’, ‘Climax’, and ‘Austin’. Late season varieties include ‘Brightwell’, ‘Powder Blue’, ‘Tifblue’, and ‘Woodard’.
Once the coldest winter weather has passed and flower buds have begun to develop, around late February to early March, it will be time to prune out the oldest canes from your established blueberry bushes (ones that have reached a height of 6 to 8 feet). Removing one to three of the oldest canes will stimulate the plant to produce new canes, and will result in total bush renewal over a five year period. This annual selective cane removal will serve to rejuvenate your plants to maximize their health and production. Additionally, pruning will reduce pests and diseases, enhance fruit quality and size while preventing over-fruiting, keep plants a desirable size, and improve overall vigor. Since the canes originate from the ground, they can be pruned back down to the ground, or up to two feet from the base. Remove thin, twiggy (matchstick) wood at this time as well since it produces smaller fruit