Best Blueberry Varieties - Tennessee Zone 7a

That is what everyone wants to know… right. Which variety, or combination of varieties will do best in their location. Including me.

I just joined this board a few weeks back and already have 12 blueberry plants growing… I did my best to research the subject and made my own decision but would appreciate any recommendations on what I could have done better.

I LOVE blueberries and could eat them every day and not get tired of them. I can say that about blackberries, raspberries, strawberries too.

One other reason I want to get answers to this question… is that I am 59 YO… and plan to retire at 63.
Between now and then, I will be selling my BIG House (and yes… all of the stuff I have growing here) and will be down sizing… building a empty nester home on other property that I own, and yes starting all over again, establishing all the stuff I love to grow and eat - including blueberries.

My start in planting blueberries was… not so well researched. Our walmart had a couple of Climax Blueberry bushes for sale, and I bought them and planted them… This was 3 years ago. Got several nice berries off them last year.

And last spring I planted 10 more… now this is where I actually did some research and tried to make a good decision on varieties for my area.

Per UT Ag, they recommend rabbit eye varieties in Tennessee… since our native blueberry bushes are rabbit eye and are known to do well here. I do have lots of wild blueberries on my property.

So I researched rabbit eye varieties… and found some some bloom early, some mid, some late…
But then there is a TiffBlue variety that blooms long, early, mid and late… so it will pollinate the others some regardless of when they bloom.

They said the early bloomers are more subject to crop failure, with a late spring frost… I did not want that.

So I stuck with the later blooming varieties.

The 10 that I planted last spring (same location as those 2 climax planted earlier) good pollination distance from them… I planted 2 TiffBlue, 4 BrightWell, 4 Powderblue.

So all together I have 2 Climax, 2 TiffBlue, 4 Brightwell, 4 Powerblue.

I know some of you are blueberry experts and … especially since I will be starting blackberries and blueberries on the property that I will be building our empty nester home on soon, may get some in this spring.

It would be great to have someone that knows (experienced blueberry grower in TN)… chime in and let me know what I could do better.

I think that is the main reason that this board exist… we all need help making those choices when you don’t have the actual experience (which takes a lot of time).

So what say all you blueberry experts about the best (late bloomer, rabbit eyes) for Tennessee ?

PS… last year we had a frost on April 15… that took out my peaches, apples (already had fruit set, browned and fell off). But my blueberry bushes still produced some berries.

I hate it when frost wipes out my fruit, so if it actually helps reduce the chance of that by sticking with later bloomers… (makes sense to me)… I would definitely go with the lower chance of fruit failure because of late spring frosts. that does happen here from time to time.

A year without peaches… is just a lot worse than a year with peaches :slight_smile:

If I can have more success at regularly producing fruit (of any kind) by choosing later bloomers, that seems like the way to go to me.

Thanks for any recommendations.

TNHunter

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You already have a good start. Brightwell is one of the better flavored rabbiteyes and Powderblue is a decent selection. Look on Ison’s website and consider Krewer, Georgia Giant, Vernon, and Titan. If you want to stay with older varieties, consider Yadkin and Premier (Finch’s has them). If you are willing to walk a bit on the adventurous side, get O’Neal and Star southern highbush. They pollinate each other. Then if you want to try a northern highbush, consider Blueray.

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I second the vote on Yadkin,sweetest Rabbiteye so far for me.Also,Trentberry,from Edible Landscaping is an interesting oddity.Sweet and tangy,probably has Rabbiteye,somewhere in there.
http://ediblelandscaping.com/buyPlants.php?func=view&id=55

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These varieties work for me in NC zone 7B but my soil and climate may not be the same as yours.

Premier is a solid choice. Ripens with Climax but larger, sweeter fruit and more vigorous plant

Powderblue is similar to Tiffblue but does not split if you get a lot of rain during harvest.

Krewer and Vernon are both large, early berries that ripen just ahead of Premier. Vernon blooms late (perhaps a week after Climax) but ripens early

Never grown Brightwell or Yadkin

Titan produces huge berries but splits badly with a lot of rain during harvest

Legacy is a week or two earlier than the rest and produces excellent fruit. Although its a southern highbush it’s easier to grow like the rabbiteye varieties

Columbus is excellent large berry that ripens after Premier but before Powderblue. May be hard to locate…

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That’s the way it is for me almost every year: we have a late frost, other things get hit by the frost, but my blueberries produce a good crop every year regardless. Based on my experience over ~15 years with mainly rabbiteye blueberries on the edge of 7a/b in North Carolina, I’d suggest not worrying about late frosts with blueberries. Late frosts are a huge issue with other crops but all my blueberries seem to produce a good crop every year regardless.

Of the 16 or so varieties I have, Yadkin is one I’d especially recommend for taste (although I basically like them all and wouldn’t make too big a deal out of taste differences.) Premier is also very good when the conditions are right: it can make big and very tasty berries. It’s early for a rabbiteye and has a fairly short, concentrated season.

Blueberries are quite good out of the freezer, but if you want to pick fresh blueberries over a long season, for earlier blueberries I’d recommend some kind of NHB or SHB grafted on rabbiteye or grafted on some kind of well adapted wild type blueberry that would basically only be used for rootstock (like farkleberry) but ought to make it as easy to grow some of the highbush varieties as it is to grow rabbiteyes. Some of the earlier highbush blueberries can potentially provide you with bluberries almost a month before the early rabbiteyes, so grafting highbush on well adapted rootstock seems to be working very well for me, even though highbush varieties on their own roots have performed very poorly for me.

For extending the season on the back end, Onslow or Centurion might be a couple varieties to consider. At peak season when everything is fruiting, they wouldn’t be top choices for me, but they keep the season going after most of the others are done, so I definitely appreciate them for that.

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Thank you all so much for the responses…

I would really like to keep it simple and plant like only 3 or 4 of the best possible varieties for my area…
and my idea of best… would include dependable producers, disease resistant, less prone to late frost failures, vigorous, good to very good flavor.

cousinfloyd - thanks for your comments on how your blueberries are dependable in that way… as in when other fruit fail to frost, your blueberries pull thru. I was wondering about that and you sure helped with that info. That is one thing I really love about my blackberries… so dependable…

Since I will be starting a new bed, new location… I may even transplant some of the new ones I started last spring. They were smaller plants (the 4 Brightwell and 4 Powderblue)… so I may just keep those and transplant to my new location.

Sounds like Yadkin and Premier might be a couple of good ones to add to the Brightwell and Powderblue for a 4 type mix.

I don’t really need anything fancy or different flavored… or unusual.

I found a pollination chart that shows that Brightwell, Powderblue and Premier are all OK (Yes - pollination will occur)…

It does not list the Yadkin… which you all have me really interested in now.

Do you know if Yadkin is OK pollination wise with the other 3 ?

Thanks

TNHunter

I think that pretty well describes every rabbiteye I’ve ever tried growing, and like I said, I’ve tried well over a dozen.

It also pretty well describes every highbush variety I’ve tried grafting on rabbiteye or other better adapted rootstock, although I’ve only grafted one variety each of NHB and SHB so far and don’t have too many years experience with them yet.

I would feel very safe assuming so. My assumption would be that if I have 3+ rabbiteye varieties pollination won’t be an issue with any of them.

In my location the 4 varieties you talked about, all of which I’ve had for a pretty long time, together give me fruit from about late June/early July until about mid to late August, 6-8 weeks in total. I think those are very good variety choices (although I don’t know what you’d be missing with some of the other varieties that have been recommended in this thread with which I don’t have any experience yet, namely Columbus, Vernon, Krewer, Titan, and Georgia Giant), but the thing I’d be most tempted to add to your list would be a variety with good late season potential. I think there would be quite a bit of potential to extend the picking season beyond those 4 varieties if you wanted a longer season.

Powder Blue, by the way, I’d say is just a small notch below Brightwell, Premier, and Yadkin in terms of taste, but it’s maybe the most vigorous and productive variety I’ve grown (even though I’d describe all my rabbiteyes as vigorous and productive.)

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I’m trying Onslow this year here in zone 6b (although it is not recommended for zone6)…it’s a newer and later-ripening Rabbiteye. I don’t have nearly as much experience with Rabbiteyes as northern highbush (or even the southern highbush, which typically have Rabbiteye genes bred into them) I’ve had Brightwell over a decade.

I’ve done a ton of research for 7b and am going with Springhigh, Sweetcrisp, Darrow, Reveille, and Southmoon (southern highbushes).

I’ll let you know how they do as they were all overwintered outdoors.

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I grew quite a few southern highbush and rabbiteyes just north of Nashville several years ago. The absolute best variety for me, by far, was Legacy. Very productive, great flavor, easy to manage, pH tolerance very similar to rabbiteyes, never bothered by late frosts, and semi-evergreen with beautiful fall foliage that would often last well past Christmas. If I could only plant one variety, it would be Legacy.

The absolute worse variety was O’neal. I think it needs very acidic soils. Mine were in the ballpark of pH=6.1, but most things did fine with some Hollytone 2-3 times a year.

What sort of soils do you have? Southern middle TN can have vastly different soils, depending on elevation and geology. Valleys are often thin clay on limestone, but up on the Highland Rim plateau, soils are deeply weathered and very acidic and blueberries grow wild. Late spring frosts are also a major problem, unless you are up on a ridge, so best to avoid most of the really early Florida varieties.

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kiwinut and blueberrythrill… I may have to give Legacy a try too. Earlier and all that other good stuff you mentioned, just sounds great. Also a real plus hearing that you had great luck with them north of Nashville. I am about 65 miles south of Nashville myself so if you had no late frost issues… I should not either. Usually a little warmer here than in Nashville.

I am on that highland rim, my land includes ridge top (where my home, and clearings are - 3 acres) and another 27 acres of mature hardwood timber… which is growing on hillsides and in the hollows mostly.

I do have wild (I assume rabbiteye bluberries) all around my clearings in the edge of the woods.
the wild ones do fruit, but berries are small… probably because the only ones that survive my 2x a year bush hogging of my fields, are back in the tree line a bit. I wondered if I transplanted some of those out into full sun if they would do better and produce larger berries. I bet they would.

I have found patches of the wild TN bluberries in over grown fields before where they were getting a lot of sunshine and they produced some nice sized very flavorful berries.

Most of the wild blueberries around my field are in the 3-5 ft tall range, with a few getting taller than that. They have beautiful blooms (see pic below).

The ridge top field where I will be making these new blueberry, and blackberry beds… has been growing grass since I cleared the land in 1997… in the spring and summer pretty thick with fescue, once bush hogged mid summer, in the fall it gets thick with sage grass… which is usually a indication of lower ph.

You would think that after 24 years of thick grass being cut 2x a year and just left in place, that would build up the soil quite a bit. I am going to get out there and break it up and check it out soon… If it will ever dry out enough.

My woods soil and my flat garden normally test around 5.5.

If my field test about like that … I was planning to add quite a bit of peat, and some fine pine bark mulch to my BB beds to bump the ph down some.

Below is a pic of one of those wild BB bushes in bloom. This one is just off my back yard in the woods a bit… it gets a small amount of morning sun. I have a wild muscadine vine that I have trained on a trellis on the other side of my back yard and there are 3 wild blueberries beside it.

I will have to try transplanting one of these out into full sun and just see how they do.

TNHunter

Here is a pic of a TN Wild Blueberry bush just off my back yard, behind my muscadine vine… as of today 2/10/2021.

It does not get all that much sunshine since it is back in the woods a bit, just near the edge of a clearing and somewhat behind a large thick mass of muscadine.

TN%20Wild%20BB

The older wood is a light brownish grey and somewhat scaly, textured, and the smaller limbs, newer growth is reddish purple. I got no wild blueberries last year because of that hard frost we got on April 15… they were in full bloom then and got hit hard.

In the spring (late march early april) they leaf out before most other wild bushes do and the leaves at first are a pale green, light color, and that makes them very easy to spot then.

TNHunter

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Sounds like you have a nice place for blueberries. There are no native rabbiteyes in Tennessee, but there are both highbush and lowbush in your area. However, the blooming bush in your photo is not either one of those, but deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum. Deerberry is probably more closely related to lingonberries than blueberries, and they can hybridize and produce fertile offspring.

kiwinut…

I think you are right on that… I never heard of deerberry, but I looked up images on google and sure enough looked just like that pic of what I thought was a wild blueberry in bloom.

Per wikki…
Vaccinium stamineum , commonly known as deerberry , tall deerberry , squaw huckleberry , highbush huckleberry , buckberry , and southern gooseberry

Looks like it has a lot of common names.

So that one in bloom is a deerberry, but the pic of the bush with reddish purple limb tips I just took this evening is a wild blueberry of some kind right ? highbush possibly ?

I looked up that UT Agg article on Blueberries for Tennessee and below is what it had to say…

Types of Blueberries
There are two main types of blueberry plants:
rabbiteye and highbush. Rabbiteye are native to the
southern United States. They are commonly grown in
states south, west and east of Tennessee. They survive
better in drier, warmer temperatures than highbush types
and perform better when good soil moisture levels are
maintained. Fruiting plants bloom early enough to be
susceptible to frosts. Fruit matures later and is usually
slightly smaller and sweeter than highbush types.

==

I thought it said Native to Tennessee… but it said Southern US.

Interesting…

TNHunter

I know where there’s what I presume to be rabbiteye’s just east of Berea KY in the woods. Blueish leaves. Three feet or so among timber that has had younger trees either pastured or bushhogged at some point in the past. Folks planted some highbush and a rabbiteye.
So, I saw in a couple years the rabbiteye was loaded.

When I asked about pollination for their rabbiteye, they suggested a walk in their woods.That answered that.

Below is a link to that UT ag dept article on blueberries.

Here is what they recommended on varieties…

Varieties
Some of the better-performing rabbiteye varieties are
Tifblue, Garden Blue, Climax, Southland, Bluebelle and
Brightblue. The better-performing highbush types are
Blueray, Herbert, Coville, Bluecrop, Berkeley and Jersey

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My worst variety is O’neil too! I’m in an area where SHB are no longer recommended. Even with the addition of huge amounts of peat moss and pine bark and perfect PH they are marginal except for Legacy. I have Emerald and Starr too which both do a little better than O’neil. O’neil was one of the early SHB. At ne point NC had more acres of O’neil than any other variety. Its a NCSU variety that does very well on good blueberry soil in SE NC. The plant breeder came by the farm several times in the early 90’s to try to help me improve the growth of my O’neil before they decided that SHB do not do well in the piedmont portion of NC

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The extension agencies often recommend things that are quite old, and rarely recommend anything newer, regardless of how great they seem to be. Since they are guiding commercial growers, they err on the side of caution and only recommend varieties with a long, proven track record. Those highbush varieties are really outdated and mostly not that good here unless you’re in a cooler location, with the exception of Blueray. It’s the only northern highbush that’s done really well for the Kelly brothers in Castalian Springs. They operate the largest blueberry farm in TN. Their late season varieties are still mostly Tifblue and Climax for the u-pick customers. Decades old and still extremely productive.

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Have you tried any ‘Sunshine Blue’ (SHB), It works for me in the Bluegrass area in Kentucky.

Have not tried Sunshine Blue. Do you know who developed it?

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