Emeralds of the Landscape: Florida’s Blueberries
An Important Agricultural Commodity
Sprinkled around Alachua County, these tiny, blue, and sweet agricultural emeralds flourish. They are found at large agricultural production farms or in someone’s backyard. Of course, I am referring to blueberries. Blueberries are grown on 1749 acres in Alachua County and according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Florida blueberries were valued $84,633,000 in 2019. That is a lot of blue.
Blueberries are a major agricultural commodity but are also culturally significant to our area. Between April and June, there are dozens of different blueberry festivals throughout the state. This powerhouse fruit is eaten whole or is found in wines, bagels, pancakes, muffins, or cakes, but most importantly, pies. According to Alachua County’s Family, Youth, and Consumer Sciences Agent, Martha Maddox, “Blueberry pies are absolutely delicious”. She also mentioned blueberries are high in antioxidants and vitamins. This mighty fruit packs a major, delicious punch and gives us a great reason to celebrate.
Now that I have you drooling onto your newspaper as you think about delicious blueberry snacks, let us consider how we can grow blueberries in our landscapes. Floridians can grow two major types of blueberries: rabbiteye and southern high bush. Compared to most fruiting plants that require long exposures to chilly weather to produce fruit, these two types of blueberries require low chill hours, which makes them perfect for Florida’s climate.
Based on temperatures, areas north of Ocala should grow Rabbiteyes and areas south of Ocala should grow Southern High Bush. Alachua County residence can grow both varieties. Despite only two types of blueberries, each type has multiple cultivars, giving lots of variability to the fruit. Southern High Bush cultivars include Emerald, Jewel, Star, Springhigh, Sweetcrisp, Farthing, and Windsor. Rabbiteye cultivars include Beckyblue, Bonita, Climax, Austin, Tifblue, Woodard, and Brightwell.
Grow for Success
Rabbiteyes are typically easier to grow because they are more tolerant to drought and less susceptible to root rot. Additionally, their late flowering period makes them less susceptible to late freezes. They require cross-pollination to fruit, so you will need two different cultivars in your landscape.
The success of blueberries in your landscape will be greatly dependent on your soil. Three important soil characteristics for blueberry success include having an acidic soil (pH of 4.0-5.5), percentage of organic matter (1%-3%), and 18” of well-drained soils. Therefore, it is very important to complete a soil test to determine soil pH. Additionally, blueberries require 4-5 hours of sun per day. Lastly, place them away from trees and 20’ from buildings.
It is important to manage blueberry shrubs to ensure proper yield, which includes fertilization, irrigation, pruning practices, weed management, and pest control. After planting your blueberries and following UF/IFAS recommendations, you will have a copious amount of ripe, plump blueberries from your garden. Your beautiful, blue bounty will give you a reason to celebrate.
If you would like to receive more information about growing blueberries in Florida or Florida’s blueberry production, check out UF/IFAS Extension EDIS publication about blueberries
If you have any questions about planting, selecting, and maintaining your garden and need more information on growing blueberries in your landscape, reach out to the Master Gardener Volunteer Help Desk at Alachua County’s extension office more tips. You can call at (352)955-2402 or email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, follow us on our Facebook Page: UF IFAS Alachua County Extension Master Gardeners.
If you would like to see more articles from Dr. Taylor Clem, check out his Blog Page with UF/IFAS Extension