Native to eastern North America, blueberries thrive in conditions that suit rhododendrons and azaleas, to which they are related. Most blueberries grown for fruit are also handsome plants for hedges or shrub bordersand they grow well in containers. Dark green or blue-green leaves to 3 in. long change to red, orange, or yellow combinations in autumn. Spring flowers are small, white or pinkish, and urn shaped. Summer fruit is very decorative, not to mention delicious. Set plants about 3 ft. apart for an informal hedge; as individual shrubs, space Northern and Southern highbush 4 ft. apart and rabbiteye 6 ft. apart. Grow at least two different selections for better pollination, resulting in larger berries and bigger yields per plant. For a long harvest season, choose types that ripen at different times. Full sun is essential for the sweetest berries. Those grown in partial sun may be tart.
Rabbiteye and Southern highbush blueberries take extended heat better than Northern highbush kinds. Choose the type best suited to your region.
The following are some of the major types of blueberries grown. (For ornamental relatives, see Vaccinium.)
Northern highbush blueberries. Selections of Vaccinium corymbosum, these blueberries dislike mild winters and extended summer heat, so they are recommended primarily for the Upper and Middle South (USDA 6-7). Most grow upright to 6 ft. or more; a few are rather spreading and top out at under 5 ft. Most ripen their berries between June and August.
'Berkeley'. Midseason. Open, spreading, tall. Large, light blue berries.
'Bluecrop'. Midseason. Attractive, tall, erect shrub. Large berries with excellent flavor.
'Bluejay'. Early midseason. Very vigorous, tall plant. Large crop of medium-size, mild-flavored fruit that holds well on the bush.
'Bountiful Blue'. Midseason. Compact, attractive plant with bluish leaves. Large, sweet fruit is produced in abundance.
'Coville'. Late. Very attractive, tall, open, spreading shrub with unusually large leaves. Long clusters of very large, light blue berries.
'Darrow'. Late. Vigorous, upright grower. Very large berries, up to the size of a quarter. Heavy producer.
'Duke'. Early. Upright plant. Firm, large fruit. Heavy producer.
'Earliblue'. Early. Tall and erect, with large, heavy-textured leaves. Large berries of excellent flavor.
'Elliott'. Late. Tall and upright plant; medium to large berries with excellent flavor.
'Herbert'. Late. Vigorous, open, spreading plant. Berries are among the largest and best flavored.
'Liberty'. Late. Strong-growing, upright plant with large, firm, flavorful berries that keep for a long time.
'Patriot'. Midseason. Large, firm, tasty berries. Consistently high yields.
'Peach Sorbet'. Mid-season. Compact grower to just 12 ft. tall and wide. Foliage in shades of emerald green, peachy pink, and orange. Large, sweet fruit.
'Pink Lemonade'. Mid- to late season. The first pink blueberry. Attractive plant with medium-size, sweet, mild berries.
'Top Hat'. Late. Dwarf hybrid, just 2 ft. tall and 1 ft. wide; excellent choice for containers. Showy in bloom; produces firm, bright blue berries.
Southern highbush blue- berries. These relatively new selections are hybrids of Vaccinium corymbosum, V. ashei, and V. darrowi. They combine the Northern highbush fruit quality with the rabbiteye tolerance for heat and mild winters, and they ripen up to a month earlier than rabbiteye blueberries do. They generally can be grown in the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South (USDA 7-9) and have performed well in southern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. Some new low-chill selections released by the University of Florida do well as far south as central Florida. Most reach 46 ft. tall. Form varies from upright to spreading. Recommended selections include the following.
'Blue Ridge'. Midseason. Small, dense shrub. Large, high-quality fruit. Performs best in Middle South.
'Blue Suede'. Early. Vigorous grower with large, light blue fruit; very good flavor. Long harvest and dependable red fall color.
'Emerald'. Early. Vigorous, high-yielding bush with large, very tasty berries. Low-chill selection for north and central Florida.
'Georgiagem'. Early. Large and upright. Medium-size fruit with excellent flavor. Does well in Middle and Lower South.
'Jewel'. Early. Large, firm berries are tart until fully ripe. Low-chill selection good for north Florida.
'Magnolia'. Midseason. Vigorous, spreading plant. Medium-size fruit of fine quality.
'Sharpblue'. Early. Large, fast-growing shrub. Large, light blue berries with sweet-tart flavor.
'Star'. Early. Medium-size bush with spreading habit. Large, deep blue fruit of excellent quality. Low-chill selection good for north Florida.
'Summit'. Midseason to late. Semiupright plant; large, excellent-quality berries.
'Sunshine Blue'. Midseason. Compact, reaching only 3 ft. tall; makes an attractive landscape plant. Large, light blue berries with tangy flavor. Self-fertile. Tolerates a higher soil pH than other blueberries.
Rabbiteye blueberries. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Like Southern highbush blueberries, these selections of the Southeast native Vaccinium ashei are adapted to hot, humid summers and mild winters. They are often taller and wider than highbush plants and ripen their large, light blue berries from May into August, depending on location and selection. They're easier to establish and maintain than Southern highbush in most areas where both can be grown. Can be grown as far south as northern Florida. Foliage has good red fall color. The following list includes some of the most flavorful selections.
'Austin'. Early. Upright, spreading, productive. Large berries with good flavor like that of a huckleberry.
'Baldwin'. Late. Vigorous, upright, and productive. Dark blue, medium-size berries with good flavor. Holds well on the bush.
'Beckyblue'. Early. Tall, upright bush with medium to large berries of excellent quality.
'Brightwell'. Midseason. Large, sweet, light blue berries.
'Briteblue'. Late. Open, spreading form. Large, light blue berries with fair flavor.
'Centurion'. Late, after 'Tifblue'. Vigorous, upright, and productive. Dark blue, medium to large fruit with good flavor.
'Chaucer'. Midseason. Vigorous, tall, and spreading. Medium to large berries with fair to good flavor. Blooms early; not for colder areas.
'Choice'. Late. Vigorous, tall, and productive plant. Dark blue, small to medium-size berries of good quality. Blooms early; not for colder areas.
'Climax'. Early. Upright and spreading. Good pollenizer. Medium-size, dark blue berries.
'Delite'. Midseason to late. Medium-large, light blue fruit. Excellent flavor. Blooms in very early spring; flowers may be killed in areas with late freezes in spring.
'Powderblue'. Midseason to late. Vigorous, tall, and productive. Large, powder-blue berries of excellent quality. Resists cracking after rain.
'Premier'. Early. Large, light blue fruit. Excellent quality; one of the best early selections.
'Tifblue'. Midseason to late. Vigorous, upright. Good commercial selection. Firm, light blue berries with excellent flavor (tart until completely ripe).
'Woodward'. Early. Shorter, more spreading than other rabbiteyes. Rather soft, light blue berries, tart until fully ripe.