Tag Archive: Blueberries

Love Blueberries? Thank the Blueberry Bee!

Love Blueberries? Thank the Blueberry Bee!

The Southeastern blueberry bee uses buzz pollination on a blueberry plant. Photo credit: Tyler Jones, UF IFAS.

This time of year, blueberry bushes are flowering and small fruit are coming onto the wild and cultivated bushes in north Florida. Many of us, myself included, look forward to the late-spring harvest of blueberries, taking our children out to u-pick operations and digging out family recipes for blueberry-filled desserts.

What many do not know, however, is that there’s a specialized bee that literally lives for this season. During the last few weeks, this little insect has been furiously pollinating blueberry bushes during its short, single-purpose lifetime.

The Southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda labriosa is active only in mid-March to April when blueberry plants are in flower. They are smaller than bumblebees, and the yellow patches on their heads can differentiate males. Blueberry pollen is heavy and sticky, so it is not blown by the wind, and the flower anatomy is such that pollen from the male anther will not just fall onto the female stigma. Blueberry bees must instead attach themselves to the flower and rapidly vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen out. Moving to the next flower, the bee’s vibrations will drop pollen from the first flower onto the next one. This phenomenon is called “sonicating” or ‘buzz pollination” and is the most effective method of creating a prolific blueberry crop.

Blueberry bees do not form hives, but create solitary nests in open, sunny, high ground. Females will dig a tunnel with a brood chamber large enough for one larva, filling it with nectar and pollen. After laying an egg, the female seals the chamber and the next generation is ready. The species produces only one generation of adults per year.

By the time we are picking fresh blueberries next month, you probably won’t see any blueberry bees around. However, we should all consider these insects’ short-lived but vitally important role in Florida’s $ 82 million/year blueberry industry!

For more information, check out the beautifully illustrated USDA Forest Service publication, “Bee Basics—An Introduction to our Native Bees,” or North Carolina State University’s entomology website.


Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/05/01/love-blueberries-thank-the-blueberry-bee/

‘Tis the Season for U-Pick Blueberries!

‘Tis the Season for U-Pick Blueberries!

Blueberries beginning to ripen at Blue Sky Berry Farm. Photo by Molly Jameson.

There is something almost magical about picking vibrantly blue blueberries off a bush and eating them fresh. If you watch the blueberries develop, you see them go from shades of pale green and blush red to dark and puffy and bright blue. When a blueberry is ready – you know it!

Blueberries are one of the few crop plants that are actually native to eastern North America. The most popular types are the rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) and the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). Both can be found in northern Florida and southern Georgia, and the highbush blueberry can be found as far north as southeastern Canada. There are at least eight other Vaccinium wild blueberry species that can be found in the woods and near swamps in Florida. They are usually smaller and don’t taste quite as sweet as the rabbiteye and highbush, but birds rely on them heavily for forage.

If you’ve never experienced a fresh blueberry right off the bush, then you may want to consider either foraging for wild blueberries, growing your own, or scouting out a local u-pick blueberry farm near you.

Mulch blueberries with pine straw. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Let’s first consider the joys of growing your own. Blueberries require an acidic soil pH, between about 4.0 and 5.5. Lucky for most of us in the Panhandle, our soil pH is largely naturally acidic. If you have pine trees growing in your area, you most likely can grow blueberries. And the pine straw makes an excellent blueberry mulch! There are many rabbiteye cultivars that have been specifically developed to grow well in our hot climate – requiring fewer “chilling hours” than their northern counterparts. Check out varieties such as Powderblue, Brightwell, Tifblue, and Climax. Highbush blueberries can also do well in northern Florida, although they tend to flower early, making them susceptible to late freezes. Try highbush varieties such as Bluecrisp, Emerald, and Star. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks, such as fruit cracking and insect susceptibility. Click here to learn more about growing blueberries in Florida.

If you are not already growing blueberries, and you want fresh blueberries, then be sure to check out a local u-pick near you. This year you may have noticed we had a warm winter, which delayed the onset of blueberry dormancy. This means the crop is hitting its peak about two or three weeks later than normal. But don’t delay – blueberry season in north Florida typically declines by the beginning of July, so the season is upon us!

If you are in the east Panhandle, be sure to check out u-pick operations such as Blue Sky Berry Farm, Myrtle Creek Farm, Green Meadows Farm, and Blueberry Springs Farm.

Blue Sky Berry Farm, which is located just three miles south of the courthouse in Monticello, on 1180 Ashville Highway, is entering its second season as a u-pick, and its bushes have really grown! They use organic fertilizer and grow using sustainable farming methods. Blue Sky Berry Farm anticipates being open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this summer, but anyone interested in picking blueberries should first check the Blue Sky Berry Farm website (http://www.bskyfarm.com), as it is updated regularly during the season.

'Titan' blueberries at Blue Sky Berry Farm. Photo by Molly Jameson.

‘Titan’ blueberries at Blue Sky Berry Farm. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Green Meadows Farm, located at 177 East Bluebird Road in Monticello, is five acres of USDA certified organic blueberries. The farm is located among the trees and has been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon and 5:00 p.m. to dusk, and Tuesdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon, while the blueberries last.

Myrtle Creek Farm, located at 2184 Tram Road in Monticello, has beautiful blueberry fields that are dappled with shade in the late afternoon and early evening. They currently have u-pick blueberries and blackberries available. They are open during the weekdays and weekends while the blueberries last, but do call ahead (850-997-0533) to check on availability.

Blueberry Springs Farm is located at 383 Wacissa Springs Road in Monticello, and is celebrating their 25th anniversary of harvesting blueberries. They first planted in December of 1991 and had their first harvest in June of 1991. They are open Tuesdays through Sundays 7:00 a.m. to noon and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. You can contact Blueberry Springs Farm at (850) 997-1238 for updates, pricing, and directions.

Also check out the Florida Blueberry Growers Association website and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services u-pick locator to discover u-picks around the state, including grape and blackberry u-picks.

Whether you are foraging for wild blueberries, picking your own blueberries, or visiting a u-pick, be sure to bring along plenty of water, a hat, close-toed shoes, and sunscreen, as blueberry season can be a very hot and sunny time of year! But once you’ve experienced your first taste of hand-picked Florida blueberries, you will be hooked and coming back for more each and every summer!



Author: Molly Jameson – mjameson@ufl.edu

Molly Jameson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/06/08/tis-the-season-for-u-pick-blueberries/

Blueberries Likely Early This Year – What You Need To Know To Keep Them Happy

Blueberries Likely Early This Year – What You Need To Know To Keep Them Happy

IMG_0592blueberry1In all North Florida Counties, blueberry jam, blueberry cobbler and fresh blueberries seem to be a staple. This is because there are many home gardeners are able to consistently grow a top quality product. This year blueberries are very large already on plants throughout the panhandle! The increased size may be indicating earlier maturity than in the previous few years.

Backyard gardeners also desire to grow the same type of blueberries grown by local farmers but sometimes struggle to find the correct type. Vaccinium ashei (commonly known as rabbit-eye blueberry) is a species of blueberry native to Florida and adapted to the late frosts we sometimes get in Northwest Florida during the months of February and March. It is recommended that this species be grown in this area, not its sister species the Southern Highbush, Vaccinium darrowii. There are several dwarf cultivars of Vaccinium darrowii that can be used to great effect in the landscape, but will not produce a noticeable crop of fruit most years.

The rabbit-eye blueberry is a deciduous shrub growing to 3 to 6 feet tall and with up to a 3 foot spread. The leaves start out red-bronze that turn dark-green when fully developed. It has small, white bell-shaped flowers. It produces 5 mm diameter fruit, dark blue to black, with a pale gray wax coating.

Rabbet-eyes are self-infertile, meaning that they must have two or more varieties to pollinate each other. Therefore it is advisable to plant two or more cultivars close together to ensure complete fruit set. Recommended cultivars for our area include, ‘Brightwell’,’ Climax’, ‘Beckyblue’, ‘Tif-Blue’, Powderblue, ‘Woodard’, ‘Chaucer’ and ‘Bluegem’. Old, local plants can be found in gardens and in the woods, due to the fact that the WPA planted them under pines in the 1930s. These can easily be propagated by cuttings or by nicking and burying a lax stem under soil for a few month. Once the stem forms roots, it can be severed from the mother plant and transplanted.

Blueberries grow best on acid soil at a pH of 4.0 to 5.2.  Few pests and diseases bother them, with the exception of scale, whitefly and mealybug. These are controlled with a combination of dormant oil sprays, and insecticidal soap.

Blueberries enjoy soil rich in organic matter and benefit to liberal applications of pine bark mulch. Their roots are fairly weak and should not be planted near turf or other weeds which may out-compete them in the race for water and nutrients. Mulching eliminates this grass and weed competition. In soil where organic matter is very low, such as in coastal sand hills, gardeners should grow blueberries in 2 foot deep trenches filled with rotting pine bark. Blueberries enjoy being spoon fed fertilizer, since heavy fertilizer doses stop fruit set and may damage fragile root systems.

When planting, it is advisable to not include fertilizer in the planting hole. “Blueberry Special” fertilizer mixes are available which are made up of ammoniacal or urea based nitrogen sources, with an analysis of 12-4-8 and 2% magnesium. This mixture is available at many local feed and garden stores. New plants should get one ounce per application in April, June, August and October. 2 year plants should receive 2 ounces per application and older plants should receive 3 ounces per application. Fertilizer should be spread in a circle 2-4 feet in diameter around the plant for optimal root uptake. It does no good to just pour the fertilizer at the plant base, since feeder root are further out from the plant.

Feel free to contact your UF IFAS extension agent  for more information about blueberry cultivation


Author: Matthew Orwat – mjorwat@ufl.edu

Matthew J. Orwat started his career with UF / IFAS in 2011 and is the Horticulture Extension Agent for Washington County Florida. His goal is to provide educational programming to meet the diverse needs of and provide solutions for homeowners and small farmers with ornamental, turf, fruit and vegetable gardening objectives. Please feel free to contact him with any questions you may have.

Matthew Orwat

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/04/21/blueberries-likely-early-this-year-what-you-need-to-know-to-keep-them-happy/

Blueberries for the Panhandle



Have you tasted the great local blueberries available this season? Want to start your own Blueberry garden?  Now that Blueberry harvest is in full swing in the Florida Panhandle, it is a good time to discuss blueberry culture.

Blueberry plants in garden centers lure us in with bell shaped flowers or especially if already setting fruit. Before you take one home, make sure your site is suitable.  Doing your homework before you plant is important, but especially so when you want to grow a plant with specific cultural requirements such as blueberries.  Blueberries require well-drained acidic soil that contains organic matter, a minimum of 4-5 hours of sunlight daily, and space away from competing roots. Chill hour requirements and bloom time vary by blueberry types.

Soil in the Florida Panhandle has a wide pH range (measure of acidity) and can vary greatly even within a half-acre site. Having your soil tested prior to planting is critical to growing blueberries successfully because it is very difficult to lower pH if your soil is higher than the target range. Blueberries need acidic soil (pH 4.2-5.5) to be able to use micro-elements in the soil such as iron and zinc.  As the pH increases, these nutrients become less available to the plant even if they are present in the soil in adequate quantities.  Nutrient deficiency leads to weak plants and loss of vigor. Plan to test your soil before you purchase plants to ensure your site has the ideal pH range, visit your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office to obtain a soil test kit.  For more details about how soil pH affects your landscape, please see EDIS SL256: Soil pH and the Home Landscape or Garden.

Sandy soils commonly found in North Florida tend to be low in organic matter.  Incorporating soil amendments directly into planting beds or using mulches that decompose (such as pinestraw or wood mulch) will help increase organic matter in your landscape.  Peat moss or pine bark can be incorporated into beds planned for blueberries or pine bark can be used as mulch.  Adding organic matter will help retain soil moisture, which is beneficial to blueberries that have shallow root systems.
Retaining soil moisture is valuable to blueberries, however, the site does need to drain well to a minimum depth of 18 inches. Areas that remain wet for long periods of time increase the risk of Phytophthora root rot damage.  If an otherwise ideal site does not drain well, consider building a raised bed or changing the location.

Four to five hours a day is the minimum sunlight needed for good blueberry production. Make sure your sunny site is at least 20 feet from building foundations and competing tree roots. Blueberry plants can get large, over ten feet in height and width!  Plan to give them room to grow; with pruning they can be maintained around 7’x7’.

There are two main types of blueberries that grow well in Florida: the southern highbush and rabbiteye.  Among those types, there are specific cultivars with low chill requirements that perform better in Florida than in other southern states.  Rabbiteye blueberries are recommended for areas north of Ocala, southern highbush for central and south Florida.  When choosing cultivars, you need to plant at least two different cultivars within the same type (rabbiteye with rabbiteye) and make sure that bloom time overlaps so that cross pollination can take place.

Rabbiteye cultivars recommended for the Panhandle are:
Early season
• ‘Beckyblue’
• ‘Bonita’
• ‘Climax’
Mid- to late-season
• ‘Brightwell’
• ‘Powderblue’
• ‘Tifblue’
• ‘Woodard’
• ‘Chaucer’
• ‘Bluegem’

For more information about blueberry site preparation, selection, pest management, and care please see EDIS CIR1192 Blueberry Gardener’s Guide.


Author: Julie McConnell – juliebmcconnell@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Bay County Horticulture Extension Agent I

Julie McConnell

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2013/07/01/blueberries-for-the-panhandle/