I get numerous calls each year about what is the easiest fruit to grow in our area. People are more interested in fruit that is grown organically or with the least amount of pesticides possible, or they don't have much time to spend on spraying and pruning, but they still like to have fresh fruit available.
There are a couple of fruit plants that fit the criteria, but the one that most people are interested in is blueberries.
Blueberries are native to Georgia. They grew along the rivers in South Georgia and were collected by fishermen. Horticulturists started making improvements to the plants collected in the wild, and now Georgia is the fifth-largest blueberry-producing state.
There are three main types of blueberries that are produced in the United States. In the northern part of the country, Northern highbush blueberries are grown. These are large, sweet blueberries. This past summer I attended a conference in Michigan. One day of the conference was set aside for tours. My group toured the blueberry production area of Michigan, and we got to pick and eat blueberries on the farm. They were great. Northern highbush blueberries can be grown in the mountains of Georgia.
The second type is the Southern highbush. Southern highbush is grown by the commercial blueberry industry in Georgia. These blueberries require a high amount of organic matter in the soil. They tend to ripen early and are favored more by deer and birds than some of the other types.
The blueberry that is best suited for the home gardener is rabbiteye, which is native to Georgia. To get the most production out of the rabbiteye, you need to choose the varieties that are best suited for our area. Some varieties are more cold-hardy than others. This cold hardiness is based on fruit loss.
Rabbiteye blueberries are divided into three categories: early season, midseason and late season. The early season varieties can lose the majority of their crop because of late freezes, but they don't lose them every year, so it is still a good idea to plant them. What I encourage gardeners to do is to plant two varieties of each category to allow for cross-pollination that is required for fruit set. Also, by planting some of each category, you can extend your harvest to a six- to eight-week period.
The varieties that we recommend for the early season are Austin, Brightwell, Climax, Premier and Woodward. The earliest ripening of these varieties are Austin, Climax, and Premier. If you like to freeze blueberries, you don't want to plant Woodward. Woodward is a variety for fresh eating, but it develops a thick skin when frozen.
The midseason varieties are Blubelle, Briteblue, Chaucer, Powderblue and Tifblue.
The late-season varieties are Baldwin, Centurion, Choice and Delite. Some of the varieties that you need in your garden are Baldwin, Centurion and Delite because they are the latest-maturing varieties.
Blueberry plants grow best in low pH soils with a range of 4.0 to 5.3, so this is one plant that you don't want to add lime to unless a soil sample tells you to. If your pH is too high, you can add sulfur before or after planting to lower the pH. You can use 0.7 to 1 pound of sulfur per 100 square feet of bed area to lower the pH. Also, you need to add peat moss, compost and fine ground pine bark to the root zone to increase the organic matter in the soil. To prepare the soil, you need to till to a depth of 8 inches. The bed needs to be at least 4 feet wide. This till will allow for a large root system.
When you plant, you need to make sure that you plant them the same depth that they were in the container. If they are bare-root plants, you need to look for the soil line on the plant and plant at that depth. The plants should be planted 8 to 10 feet apart. Also, they need to be mulched with 4 inches of mulch, extending around the plant for 4 to 5 feet.
You will need to start fertilizing the plant after new growth begins in the spring. You do not add fertilizer to the planting hole. The plant needs to establish a root system before adding fertilizer.
Blueberries are easy to grow and do well in our area, and they require very little care. So if you are thinking about adding some fruit bearers to your garden, try blueberries.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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