Growing Blueberries in Jarrahdale
A comparison of selected varieties

Rabbiteye Blueberries.
Fruit on the Rabbiteye variety Tiff Blue

Introduction
We planted an initial four bushes in about 2002. The results were promising enough to encourage us to plant a small plot of one plant each of fifteen different varieties in about 2010 and to grow them side by side to see which varieties did best in our conditions. A few more varieties have been added to the plot since 2010 with a total of 23 varieties planted

Background information
A short explanation of blueberry types and origin is necessary to understand preferred growing conditions, selecting a site and eliminating types that are not suitable. The edible blueberries are indigenous to the East coast of North America where they grow from Canada to Florida. More than 100 years of breeding has led to the large range of blueberries available today. The list below starts with blueberries suited to the coldest climates and progresses to those suited to the hottest climates. Some overlap between groups occurs.

  1. (Northern) Lowbush. Grow to 600mm and are deciduous.
  2. Half High cultivars. Are crosses of Northern Highbush and Lowbush.
  3. Northern Highbush. Grow to approximately 2m and are deciduous.
  4. Rabbiteye Grow to 1.0 m and are evergreen. 2 varieties are required for cross pollination.
  5. Southern Highbush. Grow to approximately 2m and are evergreen to semi deciduous when grown in colder conditions.

The climate of Perth and surrounds is too hot for Lowbush and Half High cultivars. Northern Highbush varieties will cope at Jarrahdale but seem to do better with solid afternoon shade. Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye varieties produce well at Jarrahdale but foliage on the plant extremities will burn in temperatures over about 38 degrees. This burning can be eliminated by growing the blueberries covered by 30% white shade cloth above and on the North side.

Southern Highbush varieties should be best suited to the coastal plain of the Perth metro area and growing them in large pots should be considered to effectively manage soil pH.

Our plant list.

  1. Northern Highbush: Northland, Denise, Elliot and Blue Ray. A98 (described only as Highbush)
  2. Southern Highbush. Misty, Sharp (Sharpe, SharpeBlue), Yanmar Blue, Legacy and Bluerose.
  3. Rabbiteye: Nelly Kelly or Sunshine Blue, Tiff Blue, Centurion, Premier, Brightwell, Climax and Burst.
  4. Unknown types: Alice, Blue Evergreen.

Good Performers.
Varieties that have grown well and have produced crops from 2 to 4 kilos of fruit per plant each year.

  1. Blue Evergreen. This blueberry is one of the initial plantings. It had a generic blueberry label with the variety name handwritten on the front with no hint as to the type. The plant has grown to 1.8 metres high, has a large crop of fruit in November and as such is one of our favourite blueberries. It is possibly a Southern Highbush.
  2. Tiff Blue, Centurion, Brightwell, and Premier are all Rabbiteyes. Premier fruits first in early January with the others fruiting from mid January throught to mid to late February. All produce large crops and grow to about a metre except Premier which grows to about 2 metres and needs support to hold the crop. Tiff blue seems to have a higher water demand than the others as it is the first for the branch tips to flag on a hot day.
  3. Briggita. Our plant produced a heavy crop over a short period in late December and grows to about 1.8metres.
  4. Elliot. Produced a good crop of large berries in January and February and grows to 1.8 metres.

Average performers.
Climax, Sharp and Alice. Produced small crops in November and December. Alice tends to sucker away from the main plant.

Poor performers.
Misty, Blue Ray plus Nelly Kelly have not done well at all and have only just hung onto life producing very small crops in November. (I suspect that Nelly Kelly and Sunshine Blue are the same plant)

Others too early to assess.

  1. A98 is very slow growing and has only decided to grow in the last 2 seasons.
  2. Yanmar Blue, Northland and Blue Rose are recent plantings. Blue Rose has beautiful Autumn foliage.
  3. Blueberry Burst. Is growing well. The breeder claims $1 coin sized fruit is possible. It may be a useful addition to a collection as it fruits in Spring earlier than other Rabbiteyes.

Fertilizers.
Many different opinions have been published. We would advise reading as many references as possible and making up your own mind. One consistent bit of advice is to use an Azalea fertilizer that has no animal manure added. Small amounts applied regularly during the growing season is the way to go particularly when plants are young. If you are a fan of using animal manures and have plants dying I would remove the manure, replant and only use inorganic fertilizers based on sulphates and not nitrates. These inorganic fertilisers assist in keeping soil pH low.

Soils
We haven’t added any organic matter to our soil as it is a reasonably free draining gravel on a gently sloping site. Acidic organic matter such as peat could be added prior to planting. Composts will raise the soil pH above what is ideal.

Other cultural notes.
Pruning. The oldest wood on a blueberry bush should be 3 -5 years old. Current season new shoots should be shortened slightly to promote side shoots near the end of the season. These branches will fruit for the next 2 or 3 years after which they should be removed near the ground to promote a fresh branch that originates from close to the plants base. If the plants have been growing well producing new shoots each year the removal of old branches that no longer produce (much) fruit shouldn’t be a problem. Don’t remove more than about a quarter of the plants stems in any year.

Mulching. Blueberries have a shallow fibrous root system that dries out rapidly and plants benefit greatly from a 100mm deep coarse mulch of materials like pine bark or pine woodchips.

Soil PH. Needs to be about 4.5 to 5.5. Most easily managed in large pots rather than continually trying to modify high pH soils. Our soil in the blueberry patch ranges from 4.0 to 5.5 and makes the use of pots unnecessary.

Pollination. Some blueberries are adequately self fertile but all benefit from cross pollination.

The Rare Fruit Club has a page on growing blueberries. DAFWA has an article titled "Growing blueberries in Western Australia"

Summary.
Our dubiously named Blue Evergreen and the Rabbiteye varieties have been the best producers to date. Its worth remembering that this might not be the case in other growing areas. Getting the soil pH, watering, mulching, artificial shade and fertilising right is essential to success.

We will definitely keep growing blueberries for their health benefits but mainly because they taste great, are easy to grow and productive once appropriate varieties have been selected and growing conditions have been met.

We recently came across an article about a commercial grower at Margaret River who has Rabbiteye varieties of Becky, Bright Blue and Woodard. He reported that Becky was a failure. Obtaining a plant each of Bright Blue and Woodard plus waiting patiently for our younger blueberries to crop will be the next step followed by providing an update to this note.

Greg and Margie Standing

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