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Blueberries makes great additions to Southeastern gardens

Want to eat like a caveman? The paleo diet suggests only eating what ancestors might have foraged, such as these blueberries.. (Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Myers Sharp)

Want to eat like a caveman? The paleo diet suggests only eating what ancestors might have foraged, such as these blueberries.. (Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Myers Sharp)

Doing one thing well just doesn’t cut it these days.

In our fast paced, digital lives, we have come to expect multifunctional performance as the standard. Even in the garden, a plant needs to do more than just, well, stand there.

This may be one reason that landscape professionals and home gardeners alike are rediscovering the multiple benefits of a one-time native, Vaccinium ashei — the rabbiteye blueberry.

A highly ornamental shrub, blueberries provide beauty and interest throughout the Southeast for more than eight months of the year. Its pristine white spring blossoms cascade in showy clusters resembling those of the broadleaf evergreen. Several months later, they become blueberries.

The nutritional benefits from blueberries’ antioxidants are well documented. When and how much of this super fruit is produced on each bush depends on the variety, though several quarts per bush aren’t uncommon.

Berries ripen from early July into September. Some varieties ripen all at once, producing a lot of fruit for a limited time, which is great for cooking and freezing. Others ripen at a slower rate over many weeks, just right for enjoying fresh berries all summer.

The bushes’ fall foliage lights up the landscape in dramatic shades of red — from flaming orange to blazing crimson. When the final leaves drop, these twiggy plants take a brief hiatus until rising spring temperatures prompt another season-long performance.

David Hubbard, owner of highly rated Premier Land Design in Statham, Ga., says he uses blueberries quite a bit in his landscape designs, noting they’re actually a favorite among his customers.

“They’ve got great spring flowers and fall color,” he says. “And people love to walk out and pick some berries for their cereal.”

The varieties Hubbard uses include Baldwin, Climax and Premier. He also uses dwarf blueberries, such as Top Hat, which are well suited for patio containers.

“We plant them in groups to make it look natural,” he says. “Since they’re deciduous, we place them in front of evergreen to soften the woody appearance in the winter.”

There are at least 15 blueberry varieties that are well suited for Southern landscapes. For proper pollination and berry development, plant at least two varieties.

Consider all the characteristics in each variety such as plant size, climate and soil tolerance, berry size and “chill hours” — the amount of time when the temperature hovers between 45 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Varieties that thrive in the Southeast require fewer chill hours during dormancy to set fruit.

Landscape professional Chip Offers likes using different and often unexpected plants in the landscapes he creates. As owner of highly rated The Garden Gnome, in Lutz, Fla., he favors a dwarf blueberry that tops out at about 2-feet high.

The Gulf Coast region of central Florida has a wide temperature range that could be challenging for many blueberry selections. “The one we’ve used was developed to be cold tolerant, produce fruit and deal with the summer heat,” he says.

Editor’s note: Learn more about maintaining and caring for your lawn with Angie’s List Guide to Landscaping.

About the author: Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She’s passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

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