I get numerous calls asking what is the easiest fruit to grow in our area.
Many gardeners don't have much time to spend on spraying and pruning, but they still like to have fresh fruit available. Also, many are more interested in organic fruit, or fruit grown using the least amount of pesticides possible.
There are a couple of fruit plants that meet the criteria, but the plants most people are interested in are blueberries, which 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.
Three main types of blueberries grown are in the U.S.
In the northern part of the country, Northern highbush blueberries are grown. These are large, sweet blueberries.
The second type of blueberry is the Southern highbush, which is grown by the commercial blueberry industry in Georgia. These blueberries require soils that are high in organic matter.
They do best when mulched with pine bark. The pine bark will help lower the soil pH, and blueberries like soils with a low pH. Also, they tend to ripen early and are favored more by deer and birds than some of the other types.
The blueberry type best suited for the home garden is the rabbiteye. This type is native to Georgia. Some varieties of rabbiteye do better in this area than others. Some varieties are cold-hardier than others. This cold-hardiness is based on fruit loss from late freezes.
Rabbiteye blueberries are divided into three categories -- early season, midseason and late season. The early-season varieties can lose the majority of their crop to late freezes, but they don't lose them each year, so it is still a good idea to plant them.
What I encourage gardeners to do is plant two varieties of each category, since cross-pollination is required for fruit set. Also, by planting some of each category, the harvest can be extended from six to eight weeks.
Varieties recommended for the early season are Austin, Brightwell, Climax, Premier and Woodward. The earliest ripeners of these varieties are Austin, Climax and Premier.
If you like to freeze blueberries, you don't want to plant Woodward, which is good for fresh eating but 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. Baldwin, Centurion and Delite are the latest-maturing varieties.
Blueberries grow best with a pH range of 4.0 to 5.3. Don't add lime unless a soil sample recommends it.
If the pH is too high, sulfur can be added before planting or after planting to lower the pH. Use seven-tenths to a pound of sulfur per 100 square feet of bed area to lower the pH.
Also, clay soils need peat moss, compost or fine-ground pine bark added to the root zone to increase the organic matter. To prepare the soil, till to a depth of 8 inches and at least 4 feet wide.
This will allow for a large root system.
When planting blueberries, make sure that the plant is the same depth it was in the container.
If they are bare-root plants, look for the soil line on the plant and plant at that depth. They should be planted 8 to 10 feet apart and should have 4 inches of mulch that extends around the plant 4 to 5 feet. Pine bark or pine straw works best.
The first application of fertilizer should come after new growth starts in the spring.
Do not add fertilizer to the planting hole; the plant needs to establish a root system before fertilizer is added.
To get the best results, have the soil sampled and follow the recommendations on the report.
During the first growing season, pick the blooms off the plant. The young bush needs to put more energy into growing a root system and the bush. If the berries are allowed to mature, the growth of the plant will be slower.
Also, remember to keep them well-watered, with a gallon of water per foot of plant height per week.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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