Blueberry plants are native to the U.S. and the famous explorer and botanist, William Bartram, found relatives of Blueberry plants described as Vaccinium varietas growing in the American colonies in great numbers. Rabbiteye blueberry plants have been improved by USDA hybridizers by intercrossing blueberry plants growing along swamp banks and sandy river edges. These wild blueberry plants basically grow in very poor soils that are fit to grow only a few other agriculturally important row crops. Commercial growing of blueberries surged in the late 1970s, because the size of the hybrid blueberry grew as large as a quarter, and the yields of the new rabbiteye blueberry bushes exceeded 10 gallons per plant.
Many benefits of blueberry plants over other berry plant crops such as easy picking while standing, whereas, with strawberries, one must crawl on the earth to pick the berries. The Rabbiteye blueberry also doesn't prick fingers like the blackberry plant or the raspberry bush. For the backyard gardener the blueberry plant is a perfect choice because of its keeping quality and long shelf life. The excess fresh blueberry crop can be dried or frozen and kept in almost fresh condition for many years. Dried blueberries are an additive to breakfast cereals that are rehydrated by adding milk. Dried blueberries are also canned in vacuum containers and sent to Afghanistan and Iraq for soldiers diets. Recent findings that blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants that fight or prevent cancer and kidney problems has triggered a cascade of Rabbiteye blueberry plant farms.Many of these blueberry commercial plants are established on soils that were considered to be agriculturally worthless by peanut and cotton farmers. These favorable areas of blueberry farming have soils that are sandy, low in fertility and low in pH--generally 4-5 pH values.
Planting blueberry bushes correctly is important, and once planted, very little maintainance or fertilizing is necessary on this long lived plant. Most commercial blueberry growers dig a hole the size of a 5 gallon can and refill the hole with 1/2 peat moss and 1/2 top soil, and the blueberry bush is planted in the center of the soil mixture. Fertilizing should not be done on newly planted blueberry bushes, because more blueberry plants are killed by nitrogen scalding of the roots than from any other cause.
Commercial blueberry growers plant blueberry bushes 6 feet apart, so that cultivation or heavy mulching can control weed growth. Demand for blueberry fruit has grown so intense, that the packaged fresh blueberries can be purchased all year at grocery stores, many being exported from South America and Africa. Most home gardeners who plant 20 or more blueberry bushes will produce enough berries for his whole family-growing enough extra berries to freeze for winter eating. Freezing blueberries can offer gourmet quality berries all year, if the berries are not washed before freezing. Washing the blueberries should only be done when the berries are removed from storage before thawing.
Blueberries are not only a favorite of humans, but wildlife animals too, such as deer, turkey, duck and other birds that love to eat a blueberry, even more than the gardener.
Planting two or more cultivars of blueberry bushes will insure larger berry size, greater yields and will extend the season of ripening. Most gardeners prefer to plant 4 or more blueberry cultivars, so that fresh blueberries can be eaten over a two or three month period of time. The flavor and the aroma of the blueberry fruit intensifies after ripening and picking when stored in the refrigerator.
Most blueberry plants grow only 6-8 feet tall and are easy to pick, because the weight of blueberry clusters droops down for easy picking. A ripe blueberry will easily roll off in the fingers rotating a cluster when ripe. Blueberry plants are essentially self pruning, as new blueberry canes replace the old ones as they age.
By Pat Rick