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Skaggs: Native blueberries taste good in any backyard
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The beautiful rabbiteye blueberry is native to Georgia. Fishermen collected the best wild blueberries growing along our rivers, and later Tom Brightwell and other horticulturists created improved varieties of rabbiteye blueberries. Georgia is now the fifth-largest blueberry producing state.

Rabbiteye blueberries are generally the best type of blueberries for home gardeners in Georgia. Southern highbush blueberries are grown commercially in Georgia, but require high organic matter soil (at least 3 percent) and are very prone to attack by deer and birds because they ripen early in the season. For this reason, they are usually poor choices from home gardeners.

One of the rabbiteye blueberry's greatest attributes is that it seldom requires spraying for insects or diseases.

A number of nurseries in Georgia propagate and sell blueberry plants. Due to their growing popularity, most local garden centers have them, and fall is a great time of year to plant them.

Under good management, blueberry bushes will produce some fruit the second or third year after transplanting. By the sixth year they will yield as much as 2 gallons each. The yield will continue to increase for several years as the plants get larger.

The most important thing to remember about starting rabbiteye blueberries is to plant more than one variety for cross-pollination. Cross-pollination is necessary for blueberries to grow.

Austin, climax and premier are the earliest ripening rabbiteye varieties. To lengthen your harvest season, select one or more of these varieties and one or more of the other varieties. Baldwin, centurion and delite are the latest maturing rabbiteye varieties.

With early, mid-season and late varieties, you should enjoy fresh blueberries for six weeks. Woodard is a good berry for fresh eating but develops a tough skin when frozen. Brightwell, centurion, tifblue and powderblue are generally the most spring freeze resistant.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.