What varieties of blueberries should be grown?
There are basically two types of blueberries that grow well in Mississippi: Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush.
These types of blueberries are native to the Southeast and have been improved to grow vigorously under cultivation and produce large yields of exceptional fruit. Rabbiteye varieties require cross pollination for maximum fruit set. Two or more varieties should be planted in close proximity to each other. Rabbiteye varieties include:
Climax - Upright, open plants. Berries are large, medium blue in color, have a small scar and good flavor. Early season ripening, late May in South Mississippi. Concentrated ripening, excellent for fresh market or machine harvest. Requires 450 to 500 chill hours. Georgia release 1976.
Brightwell - Berries are medium in size and medium blue in color, with small dry scars and good flavor. Plant growth is vigorous and upright and produces large volume of fruit. Harvest season begins early, June 1 in South Mississippi, but continues late. The fruit may be harvested mechanically for fresh or frozen. Requires 350 - 400 chill hours. Georgia release 1981.
Premier - Vigorous, productive plant with large fruit and good color. Early season, harvest season begins June 1 in south Mississippi. Excellent for machine harvest, also excellent for freshly picked berries. Requires 550 chill hours. Georgia release 1978.
Tifblue - Leading rabbiteye variety because of excellent appearance, productivity, and shipping quality. The bush is very vigorous, upright, and widely adapted. In recent years, Tifblue has fallen out of favor with commercial producers because it ripens mid to late season (June 20 in south Mississippi) after fresh prices have moderated. Fruits are large, round, light blue, sweet, and very firm with a small dry scar. Requires 550 - 650 chill hours. Georgia release 1955.
Powderblue - Vigorous, productive, excellent fruit color. Usually cracks less than Tifblue in wet weather. Can be harvested mechanically for fresh pack. Mid to late season, late June in South Mississippi. Requires 550 to 600 chill hours. North Carolina release 1978.
Centurion - Bush is vigorous and upright with limited suckering. It blooms late and flowers are self fertile. Fruit is medium size, medium to dark blue, good quality with aromatic flavor. This is a late season variety, ripening late July and extending through August into September. This variety is popular with pick-your-own operations or homeowners wishing to extend their harvest season. Requires 550 to 650 chill hours. North Carolina release 1978.
Baldwin - A productive, late ripening variety with good flavor and firm dark blue fruit. It has a lengthy ripening period. Baldwin is adapted to pick-your-own and back yard plantings. Requires 500 chill hours. Georgia release 1985.
Southern Highbush varieties
Several new blueberry varieties have been developed recently that show promise of producing early ripening blueberries. Rabbiteye varieties ripen during June and July. Southern Highbush varieties should ripen during May. The following is a list of some southern highbush varieties available for Mississippi:
O'Neal - Ripens in early May in South Mississippi. Vigorous, semi-upright, productive, very large fruit, medium blue, excellent firmness, picking scar and flavor. Blooms and ripens over an extended period. Adapted for pick-your-own or hand harvest for commercial shipment. Requires 400 chill hours. North Carolina release 1987.
Gulf Coast - Ripens in mid May in south Mississippi. Vigorous, semi-upright, medium productivity, fruit medium in size, firm, small stem scar, and good flavor. Gulf Coast has had a stemminess problem where it has been grown commercially. Requires 400 to 500 chill hours. Mississippi release 1987.
Cooper - Ripens in mid May in south Mississippi. Moderately vigorous, upright, productive with medium size fruit. Flowers later than Climax, but ripens two weeks earlier than Climax. Requires 400 to 500 chill hours. Mississippi release 1987.
Georgia Gem - Ripens in mid May in south Mississippi. Moderately vigorous, upright, productive, with medium size, firm, fruit has good color and a small scar. Requires 350 chill hours. Georgia release 1987.
Cape Fear - The bush is vigorous and intermediate between spreading and semi upright. The fruit is light blue, firm, large and has a good picking scar. The flavor is good as the fruit ripens but becomes objectionable as the fruit remains on the bush. Some unexplained fruit quality problems have curtailed the establishment of new commercial plantings.
Reveille - Firmness, color and the ability to hold up in storage have been favorable with hand or machine harvested Reveille fruit. Ripens in early May. Fruit is medium in size, light blue, very firm, crisp textured with a pleasant flavor. The bush is very upright with a narrow base. Fruit is very easily detached during mechanical harvesting. Rapid growth in early years allow for high yields from young bushes, Older bushes are also very productive. Early blooming makes late freezes a danger. Fruit cracking occurs during wet periods. Some berries remain red or green at the stem end after the blossom end is blue. Requires 500 to 600 chill hours. North Carolina release 1987.
Bladen - Similar to Reveille in berry size, vigor, and productivity. It is more resistant to cracking in wet weather. Color development is more uniform during ripening. Firmness and flavor are good. Bushes are upright and vigorous with a slightly wider canopy than Reveille. The blossoms are not completely self fruitful, so interplanting with a variety such as Reveille will insure adequate pollination. Ripening is 4 to 5 days earlier than Reveille. Leafing is poor on bushes with excess flowers. Topping, or late pruning, should increase fruit size and reduce bush damage. North Carolina release 1987. Requires 500 to 600 chill hours.
Blue Ridge - Produces medium to large fruit with excellent color, good firmness, and excellent flavor. Picking scar is fair with occasional tearing. It was originally released for the home garden but a few growers are considering small plantings for commercial production. Requires 500 to 600 chill hours. North Carolina release 1987
Jubilee - Plants grow upright and are vigorous and productive. Fruit of Jubilee is medium in size and has good color, flavor, firmness, and a small picking scar. Plants of Jubilee bloom later and ripen their fruit about two weeks earlier than Climax. Fruit on Jubilee plants retain good quality over an extended period and can be completely (95 percent) commercially harvested in one or two pickings. Requires 550 to 650 chill hours. Mississippi release 1995.
Magnolia - Plants of Magnolia have a spreading growth habit and are medium in height, productive, and vigorous after field establishment. Small plants require good planting management to ensure good survivability. Fruit of Magnolia is medium in size, has good flavor, color, firmness, and a small picking scar. Plants often bloom later and ripen their fruit about two weeks before Climax. Requires 550 to 650 chill hours. Mississippi release 1995.
Pearl River - Plants of Pearl River are vigorous, grow upright and are productive. Pearl River fruit is medium in size, has good flavor, is firm, and has a small scar. The fruit is darker blue than other southern highbush cultivars but is commercially acceptable. Pearl River plants bloom almost two weeks later than Climax and the fruit ripens about one week before Climax. Requires 550 to 650 chill hours. Mississippi release 1995.
Biloxi - A relatively low chilling cultivar and recommended for the southern areas of the southeastern United States. It may not be adapted to areas with very low chilling such as central or southern Florida. Plants of Biloxi grow upright and are vigorous and productive. Fruit of Biloxi is medium in size, has good color, flavor and firmness, with a small picking scar. Fruit of Biloxi ripens early, a few days earlier than Jubilee, but the bloom period is also early. This puts it at risk in years of late spring freezes. Biloxi should be interplanted with other southern highbush cultivars to facilitate fruit set, early ripening, and maximum yield. Mississippi release 1998.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a new obstacle for Mississippi blueberry growers in 2020, impacting the labor force for the early-season varieties.
The invasive species of fruit fly, Spotted Wing Drosophila, can wreak havoc on the state’s largest commercial fruit crop – blueberries. But homeowners likely won’t find it to be a significant problem.
Regional agriculture advisory groups will meet across the state next month to provide input on educational programing and research conducted by Mississippi State University.
Blueberry growers and others interested in growing blueberries commercially can learn more about the crop during an upcoming workshop.