Choosing Cultivars

Selecting appropriate cultivars for home plantings is not a simple matter. In the coldest areas of New York State, gardeners are limited to only the hardiest cultivars, such as Northblue, Northcountry, and Northland, which will survive winters in most areas ofUSDA Hardiness Zone 3. Patriot, Bluecrop, Jersey, and Blueray will overwinter in most areas of Zone 4. Gardeners in warmer areas can choose from these and less hardy cultivars, such as Herbert, Darrow, Spartan, and Bluejay.

Cultivars differ in the size, color, and flavor of their berries and when they ripen. Cultivars are self-fertile, but planting at least two different cultivars improves pollination and increases berry size. The following cultivars are listed by harvest period, from early- to late-ripening blueberries. (For an updated list of nurseries selling blueberry plants, see nursery.)

• Earliblue—hardy in Zones 5 to 7. Berries are large with light blue skin and have a soft flesh and mild flavor. The fruit does not shatter (drop easily) from the bush, and it is resistant to cracking. Plants are vigorous, productive, upright, and well shaped.

Keys for Success

Your soil must be acidic, with a pH of less than 5.0. Test the soil and start reducing its pH at least a year before planting. If the pH is more than 7.0, it may be too difficult to reduce pH. Consider growing something else instead.

Choose a sunny site and avoid frost pockets. Plants require at least a 140-day frost-free growing season.

Blueberry plants prefer a moist but well-drained soil but will tolerate a wide range of soils (as long as the pH is less than 5.0). Plants are sensitive to moisture stress, especially the first few years after transplanting.

Test your soil before you even think about which cultivar to grow. Its pH must be less than 5.0.

Duke—hardy in Zones 5 to 7. This productive newer variety from New Jersey has large fruit with good flavor.

Blueray—hardy in Zones 4b to 7. Berries ripen in early midseason and are crack resistant and very large with medium-light blue skin, firm flesh, and a strong flavor and aroma. The plants are upright, spreading, and consistently productive. It overproduces (produces too much fruit, weakening the plant) unless carefully pruned.

Patriot—hardy in Zones 4 to 7. It is partially resistant to phytophthora root rot and has excellent-tasting fruit. The plants are vigorous, productive, open, upright, and smaller than other cultivars.

Berkeley—hardy in Zones 4 to 8. Berries are very large and light blue and have a mild flavor and firm flesh. Berries ripen in midseason, store well, resist cracking, and do not shatter from the bush. The plants are vigorous, open, spreading, and easy to grow.

Bluecrop—hardy in Zones 4b to 7. Berries are medium large and have a light blue skin, an excellent flavor, and firm flesh. Berries shatter somewhat from the bush, but they resist cracking. The plants are vigorous, consistently productive, spreading, and drought tolerant. This is the most popular variety in the world.

Herbert—hardy in Zones 5 to 7. Berries ripen in late midseason, are very large and medium blue, and have tender flesh and a very good flavor. They resist cracking and do not shatter from the bush. The plants are consistently productive, vigorous, open, and spreading.

Darrow—hardy in Zones 5 to 7. Another variety with exceptional flavor for the home gardener.

Jersey—hardy in Zones 4 to 8. Berries are medium sized with medium-blue skin and firm flesh. They keep well, resist cracking, and have a good flavor. The plants are vigorous, productive, erect, and easy to prune.

Coville—hardy in Zones 5 to 8. Berries are large and aromatic with medium-blue skin and a tart flavor. They do not shatter from the bush. The plants are productive and late ripening with vigorous, open, and spreading growth that is easily pruned.

Lateblue—hardy in Zones 5 to 7. Berries are late ripening, firm, light blue, and highly flavored. The plants are productive and vigorous with erect growth. They ripen in a relatively short time, about seven days after Coville.

Elliot—hardy in Zones 4 to 7. These productive plants bear berries that are firm, light blue, and medium sized with a good, mild flavor. They ripen very late in the season, around Labor Day.

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