Growing blueberries in Florida
Florida is home to many fruits and vegetables. While citrus fruit is most common in the Sunshine State, blueberries have increased in popularity in recent years.
Our relatively mild winters provide an excellent setting for cultivating blueberries. While there are two types of blueberries common in Florida, the low-chill southern highbush grows best in central Florida. Here are a few tips if you are considering trying your hand at growing this delicious fruit.
Soil quality is a key factor in cultivating healthy berries. For optimal growth, the soil pH must be within 4.0 and 5.5. Higher pH levels are often deficient in important nutrients such as zinc and iron, causing reduced plant vigor and poor fruit development.
Proper soil drainage is another important part of plant health. If your soil has poor drainage, place plants in raised beds. Blueberries are prone to root rot diseases if exposed to high levels of moisture. New plantings should be set in areas that receive at least four hours of sunlight each day. Southern highbush should be at least three feet apart. These plants
are fairly small, but should be planted at least 20 feet away from buildings and other structures. Blueberries have low water needs in the winter, but should receive at least 40 inches during the year.
There are several southern highbush cultivars available in Florida. According to the University of Florida, IFAS Extension 'Emerald' is one of the most commonly planted across our state. These plants are known for producing large, high quality berries that ripen early. Jewel, Springhigh, Star, Sweetcrisp and Farthing are also fairly easy to grow from Gainesville to the central Florida counties such as Sebring.
Mid-December to late February is the best time to plant blueberries in central Florida. After planting, it is especially important to add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture. Pine bark mulch is preferred and should be at least three inches deep.
Blueberries should also be pruned at planting time, but should not be heavy or severe. Southern highbush are especially vigorous and can flower abundantly, so proper pruning is key to development.
You must watch for damaging pests and diseases on your blueberry plants. Chemicals should only be used when plant damage is severe. Some of the most common invaders include scales, flea beetles, thrips, fruitworms and caterpillars.
Many home gardeners find that birds are the biggest problem. Crows and waxwings love to pluck blueberries from the plant as they ripen. Root-rot is the most problematic disease in Florida blueberries. When severe this disease can reduce plant vigor and may eventually cause death. Proper soil drainage is essential to reducing the likelihood of root-rot. Stem blight and gray mold can also occur on blueberries. As with insect infestations, chemicals should be reserved for plants severely infected.
Home gardeners can be successful blueberry growers with patience and tender loving care. Although it may be a little work, it will certainly be worth it when you harvest delicious, sweet fruit.