Results of Southern California Blueberry experience

Having successfully grown blueberries in San Diego for the past 7 years, I thought I would describe what I have learned about varieties and practices:

Planting - you definitely do not need to plant them in containers. In fact, the roots often bake in the intense sun and heat. They are healthier if you plant them not in the ground, but on the ground. I would till the soil, then put a mound of acid loving mix on the ground, often mixed with peat moss, and then that was my mound. I found if you made a guild, in a circle, and watered in the middle of the circle, that seemed to work really well. Rows work fine too.

Protect the roots - if the roots dry out or bake in the heat, the plant will never be the same again. I added mulch around the roots. They seem to be susceptible to getting water logged. They like great drainage and frequent watering. I did not experiment much, but I wonder whether sand or volcanic rock (pumice, perlite, etc) would be even better than the mixes I was using. The author of Teaming with Microbes would say use wood chips, as fungal colonization makes for acidic soil and the nitrogen would be available in ammonium form, the type that blueberries use. I did not notice a difference but I see no reason not to follow that advice.

Watering - My first year I watered them like a lawn, every day in the summer, and they did great. I used microsprinklers. My father used soaker hose tubing and his did even better. I suspect drip would be fine if you spread the emitters enough. I watered them less frequently once mature.

Varieties (in order of recommendation)
Snow chaser is definitely your earliest variety. At its best, it has outstanding flavor, and at its worst it tastes like a good blueberry. This is a must have variety because you can get fruit early, when nothing else is ripe.

Emerald is very productive, vigorous, the fruit are large, the plant is large. Everything about this variety is great. Jewel is like a watery tasting Emerald. I pulled Jewel out after a couple years. Emerald also is a must have and fortunately, easier to find than Snow Chaser.

Southmoon - this variety is later and it does not produce well but its flavor is amazing. Rather floral and tastes good even when not ripe.

Sweetcrisp - not as productive in the shade but in full sun and perhaps with good chill, it can be very productive. The birds don’t like it as much because the flesh is more firm. You hear an audible crunch. That said, the flavor is outstanding.

Scintilla had a wine like taste, I really liked it. My plants died from disease, presumably fungal as I experiemented with a weed barrier (terrible idea). I replaced my dead with Scintilla with Scintilla from Florida Hills Nursery and they don’t taste the same and the plant is lower growing and more bushy. I am not sure I have Scintilla any more, alas.

Star and Sharpblue are fine. Nothing bad or distinguishing. O’Neal was great some years and bland other years. I pulled it.

Jubilee does not do well here. Not enough chill?

Sunshine blue are not as good. I pulled all mine.

Reveille has not lived up to its reputation. Due to be pulled if not better by next year.

I tried a couple rabbit eye varieties. They definitely extend the season but were not nearly as good. Pink Lemonade is popular and interesting but the flavor was not good enough.

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Thanks for the practical experience.

My sad experience so far ( colder zone). Yes, you can overdo it in acidifying the soil.

I managed to get it down to 3.7 ph. Get ph strips off e-bay 2-9 ph range make a slurry with distilled water, wait 30 minutes and test. Very good agreement with university soil test. Those el cheapo meters are useless. Doing much better so far with weekly additions of urea ( ammonium sulfate was too acid).

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Hi James, did you ever try biloxi? I have one spot left for my 6th blueberry bush but undecided what to plant.

Your right about the roots baking once they don’t recover. When I was in San Jose I moved my blueberry from pots to raised beds for this exact reason.

I bought it when Home Depot had it one year. I did not really like it. It wasn’t bad, just wasn’t as good as my favorites. What varieties do you grow?

Snow chaser, emerald, misty, sunshine, jewel. Thinking about sharpblue, biloxi, or the new stuff from Monrovia called Bountiful Delight (not Bountiful Blue). Bountiful Delight is all over my local garden centers this year, which I’ve never seen in the past.

I clocked 850 chill hours below 45 degrees between November 1 and February 28 this past winter in my neighborhood (confirmed with three different weather stations within 1/4 mile). I definitely didn’t expect that since this winter seemed warmer than previous years.

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Is that Ramona? Did you have to check the chill hours manually or was there some way to automate it? I would love to do that for my own area.

No I’m up in Ventura County. My neighborhood is in a small valley with an unusually cold microclimate.

I had to do it manually. There used to be a website that can calculate it for you using personal weather stations that feed data to wunderground. Unfortunately wunderground started charging money for anybody to access their raw data, even though they get everyone’s data for free.

To do it manually, go to wunderground.com and find the nearest station to your address. My immediate neighborhood has 5 (for some reason my neighbors conveniently have many in a small area). Then click on the station name itself to get out of the forecast website. The page should now show all the current data from the specific station.

Then scroll all the way down and it’ll show a graph of temperatures recorded every few minutes on a daily basis. You can use the arrows to scroll between dates. I painstakingly counted the number of hours been 32-45 degrees from November 1 to February 28.

If you make a list of number of hours on each date, you can conveniently exclude chill hours that were less than 2 or 3 (unclear if continuous chill hours that short really contribute to anything). I’d also recommend separating the numbers by month, since some of my fruit trees wake up sooner than Feb 28 so chill hours during February might not be contributing much. Also it’s unclear if November chill hours contribute too much since it’s still pretty warm and trees haven’t gone dormant yet in my area until after Thanksgiving.

There is a really good u-pick blueberry farm just north of Santa Barbara. You might consider contacting them and asking them what they like. You also could put in one of the northern highbush varieties just to see what will happen.

Applenut got one of them to fruit in his area, and he is at a lower latitude than you. Not sure if you are more interested in experimenting versus getting tried and true fruit.

For me I converted my blueberries so that more than half are snowchaser. I just want to get early fruit. But I do have some experimental varieties.

I’ll look into SB, thanks for the tip.

For me I want something reliable and tasting something similar to (or better than) store bought blueberries. Not really interested in experimenting yet since I’m still a blueberry novice. Right now they’re all in 15 or 20 gallon containers because that seems the safer option (my ground soil is very alkaline).

Picked some blueberries this month from my young bushes. Big fan of south moon and snow chaser. The snow chaser was very slightly mealy compared to the south moon. Both are excellent.

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