Rabbiteye varieties (Vaccinium ashei), are resident to the southeastern United States. Florida is inhabited with at least 8 wild blueberry species. Rabbiteye plants are more vigorous, easier to be cared for and live longer, than the majority of southern variety. . They can handle drought superior to highbush blueberries. They can grow adequately in soils with a lower amount of organic material in them. Rabbiteye blueberries is usually firmer than southern varieties with thicker skin. The seeds tend to be somewhat more distinct than highbush. Their after harvest shelf life is exceptional and usually superior to highbush.
It is not uncommon to have severe crop losses due freezes in the spring. This is especially true for early season varieties which blossom before mid-season and late-season rabbiteyes. For u-pick growers and home gardeners, late flowering plants such as Brightwell and Powderblue usually make produce crops without freeze safeguard in many locations.
Rabbiteye blueberry plants need cross-pollination with other rabbiteye varieties to produce crops. That is, they are not self pollinating. Therefore, more than one variety is needed to insure cross-pollination.
In many cases, rabbiteye can be machine harvested for the local market. Since Blueberries of highbush and rabbiteye blueberries are sufficiently alike, most consumers do not notice the difference between the two varieties. Rabbiteyes are generally more suitable for u-pick and selling locally while southern highbush are more suitable for shipment. Blueberries varieties can be separated into three broad categories early season mid-season, and late-season. U-pick growers and home gardeners who do not need an early ripening variety will find that mid-season and late-season varieties are more dependable in producing blueberries.
Five popular rabbiteye varieties
Pest of rabbiteye blueberries
A gall midge, is a newly discovered pest of rabbiteye blueberries in the southeastern US. Midge larvae feed inside and destroy flower buds the resultant is low yields. Rabbiteye blueberry cultivars differ very much in their resistance to blueberry gall midge infestation. Powderblue and Brightwell are highly resistant to flower bud damage; Climax, and Tifblue are moderately susceptible; and Premier is highly susceptible. Most southern highbush blueberry cultivars are highly resistant to flower bud damage.
Brightwell was released by the University of Georgia in 1983. It is a rabbiteye type variety from the Coastal Plains Experiment Station in Tifton, GA. It is an upright vigorous plant and an exceptional consistent producer. It is early to mid-season ripening and its fruit is intermediate to large with a little dry scar. It is sweet in flavor and may be mechanically harvested for the processed or fresh market. The blueberry quality is firm with little to no picking scar. It is thought by some to be among the top rabbiteye varieties currently available. The fruit ripens after Climax. The height of a mature bush is 8-12 feet, tall and spreading. Yields of 8-14 pounds per bush are produced at maturity. It is a highly productive plant. It has a chilling requirement estimated to be 350 to 400 chill hours. Its hardiness zone is 7 to 9.
Climax was released in 1976 from the University of Georgia. It is a rabbiteye type cultivar with early ripening. The height of a mature bush is 6-10 feet, tall and spreading. Yields at maturity of 8 to 22 pounds per bush can be expected. It has concentrated ripening and can be handpicked or machine harvested for the fresh market. The fruit size is medium and has a small scar and sweet flavor. Climax reliably flowers out very much. Harvesting can be by hand or mechanical harvest. Ornamental use of Climax is good. It has a rounded leaf which is dark green in the summer and fiery red in the fall through winter. Climax is one of the leading pollinating cultivars for the Southern blueberry region. It is very vulnerable to the blueberry gall midge. It is estimated to require 450 to 500 chill hours. Its hardiness zone is 7 to 9.
Premier was developed and released from North Carolina State University. It has early to mid-season ripening. It is a vigorous and prolific plant with fruit of excellent flavor, color, and size and the fruit stores very well. It is very productive and canes on young plants may not be able to hold up heavy crop loads. The height of a mature bush is 6-10 feet, tall and upright growth, good foliage. Yields of 8-16 pounds per bush can be expected at maturity. Harvesting is done by hand or mechanical. Marketing should be focused on early U-Pick, commercial fresh market or processed. Ornamental use is good; the bright green foliage during the summer makes the bush stand out. It is highly vulnerable to blueberry gall midge and should not be planted unless you have a spray program to manage this insect. It is estimated to require 550 chill hours. Its hardiness zone is 6 to 9.
Tifblue – The University of Georgia released this cultivar several years ago and it has been planted extensively. It is a rabbiteye variety with mid-season ripening of medium to large light blue fruit. Its blueberry quality is good and firm. The Tiftblue blueberries are among the most flavorful rabbiteye blueberries. Plants are productive, vigorous, hardy, and upright. The height of a mature bush is 8-14 feet, tall and vigorous. Yields on mature plants of 8 to 25 pounds per bush can be expected on irrigated plantings. Harvesting can be done by hand or mechanically. Tifblue rates as the best ornamental for fall leaf color. It was introduced by Otis J. Woodard and the USDA at the University of Georgia Experiment Station in Tifton, GA. The Tifblue Blueberry plant was a breakthrough in hybridizing native cultivars. Those blueberry hybrid cultivars initiated the rise of the dramatic rabbiteye blueberry commercial trade that has developed into a new berry Agricultural bonanza that is reshaping the economy of the South. Tifblue is more cold hardy than most rabbiteye blueberries varieties. For this reason some think it should be the predominant variety in any planting. However It has severe fruit cracking problems during wet weather. It appears that Tifblue may be being replacing by Powder blue. It is estimated to require 550 to 600 chill hours. Its hardiness zone is 7 to 9.
Powder blue is a rabbiteye type with late season ripening. It is vigorous, upright, and straightforward to cultivate. It is extremely productive producing blueberries that are intermediate sized, sky blue, very firm, have a small picking scar, and a long shelf life. Powder blue is at present the primary cultivar for late season rabbiteye in production. It is similar to Tifblue in harvesting characteristics, ripening season, and appearance. Thus the two varieties can be harvested jointly. The plant is pretty energetic, out grows most highbush varieties. Powder blue has elevated yields, rivaling the superior highbush. The blueberries are intermediate in size, quick to pick, sky blue, and resistant to cracking. Powder blue typically cracks less and stays on the plant better than Tifblue. Powder blue is considered an especially dependable producer. It is estimated to require 350 to 400 chill hours. Powder blue is recommended for all rabbiteye plantings where a superior, late season blueberries are desired. Its hardiness zone is 7 to 9.