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Blueberry Cultivar Selection

In the Pacific Northwest, the highbush blueberry fruiting season extends from early July to mid-September. Cultivars are classified as early, early mid-season, mid-season, late mid-season, and late. The fruit on each cultivar ripens over a 2- to 5-week period. Cultivars that ripen after mid-September are rarely grown in the Pacific Northwest because wet weather often makes the harvest of sound fruit difficult.  HereGet Adobe Acrobat Reader is the latest update on blueberry cultivars for PNW.

The following cultivar descriptions are intended to serve as an aid in choosing cultivars. Susceptibility to disease and cold hardiness should also be considered.

It is advantageous to choose various cultivars to offer a succession of ripening fruit. In addition, although highbush cultivars are generally self-fertile, cross-pollination produces larger berries.

Some cultivars are suitable for both the fresh market and processing. For fresh market or U-pick (also known as pick-your-own or PYO) operations, cultivars with long, loose fruit clusters and large berries are easiest to hand-pick. Very dark berries may be unattractive for the fresh market as they appear overripe.

Firm berries handle better and keep longer than soft ones. The scar, or point of attachment of the fruit stem to the berry, should be small and dry and should not tear when the berry is picked. If the scar tears easily and is moist, the berries have a very short shelf life.

Most cultivars are good quality, but several are very tart until fully ripe; ripening may take several days after the fruit turns completely blue.

Blueberry fruit produced in the Pacific Northwest has very high processed quality (better color and flavor development) compared to that of many other growing regions in the United States. Cultivars differ in fruit quality for a processed product.

If fruit is to be machine harvested, choose suitable cultivars. For example, cultivars that ripen fruit over a relatively long period or have fruit that shatters (drops) as soon as it ripens are not suitable for mechanical harvest. Berries should hang on the bush for a period of time, but drop off once the mechanical harvester shakes the bush. Cultivars that are suitable for machine harvest are marked with a * following their name.

Highbush Cultivars

The following cultivars are listed in order of ripening (Figure 1).

Earliblue*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, productive. Fruit cluster: Medium, loose. Berry: Medium-large, light blue, firm, resistant to cracking, medium scar; flavor good, sweet, aromatic; fruit ripens early, doesn’t drop quickly once ripe, andships well. Suitable for fresh market and U-pick.
Bluetta*
Bush: Moderately vigorous, compact, somewhat spreading, consistently productive; more frost and winter hardy than Earliblue. Fruit cluster: Loose. Berry: Medium, light blue, firm, medium-broad scar; flavor fair to good.
Duke*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, open, consistently productive. Berry: Medium, light blue, firm, small scar; flavor is fair, becomes more aromatic after storage. Fruit has good shipping qualities.
Spartan*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, open, productive. Berry: Very large, light blue, firm, medium scar; flavor is excellent. Blooms late and thus avoids frost injury, but ripens early. Concentrates ripening to two main pickings. Light, well-drained soil preferred.
Patriot*
Bush: Vigorous, moderately erect, open, very productive. Fruit cluster: Tight. Berry: Very large, slightly flat, medium blue, firm, small scar; flavor excellent. Concentrates ripening to two main pickings. Berries show a “red back” when immature, and fruit can be soft in very hot weather. Plants are tolerant of heavier, wetter soils, cold weather, and frost. Some resistance to Phytophthora root rot.
Meader*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, very hardy, very productive. Fruit cluster: Medium loose, concentrated ripening. Berry: Large, firm, small scar; flavor good. Tends to overbear, requiring heavy pruning.
Collins*
Bush: Medium vigor, slightly spreading, productive. Berry: Large, light blue, firm, resists cracking, small scar; flavor excellent. Fruit does not drop quickly once ripe; suitable for fresh market. Tolerant of spring frosts.
Bluejay*
Bush: Vigorous, fast-growing, erect, open, moderately productive. Fruit cluster: Loose. Berry: Medium-large, light blue, very firm, resists cracking, small scar; flavor pleasant, mild, slightly tart. Fruit does not drop quickly once ripe and retains quality. Clusters at the periphery of the plant, long stems, and exceptional fruit retention make once-over machine harvesting practical. Berry keeping quality is good and it ships well.
Blueray
Bush: Vigorous, erect, open, productive. Fruit cluster: Small, tight. Berry: Large-very large, light blue, firm, resistant to cracking, small-medium scar; flavor excellent, aromatic. Good shipping quality. Performs well in hot climates. Tight fruit clusters discourage machine harvesting for the first picking.
Toro*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, productive. Berry: Medium-large, firm, light blue, small scar; flavor good. Ripens in two pickings. Suitable for processing and fresh market. Cold hardiness is reportedly good.
1613-A*
Bush: Moderately vigorous, erect, open, very productive. Fruit cluster: Medium, loose. Berry: Medium, light blue, very sweet. Fruit does not drop quickly once ripe, but tends to shrivel when fully ripe. Can be harvested in one or two pickings. Not suitable for long-distance fresh shipping. Excellent for processing and machine harvests very well.
Ivanhoe
Bush: Very vigorous, erect, not consistently productive. Fruit cluster: Medium, loose. Berry: Large, light blue, firm, resistant to cracking, medium scar; flavor good, tart, aromatic.
Olympia*
Bush: Vigorous, spreading, productive. Berry: Medium-large, medium blue, thin skin, resistant to cracking, small scar; flavor very good. Fruit does not shatter. Popular for fresh market good flavor and aroma. Well suited for process frozen packs uniform size and high sugar content. Fruit can usually be shipped fresh the first and second picking if the weather is not too hot. Suitable for machine harvest if bush is properly pruned.
Bluecrop*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, open, very productive. Fruit cluster: Loose. Berry: Very large, light blue, firm, resistant to cracking, small scar; flavor very good, slightly aromatic. Fruit can be tart or show “red back” (only half of fruit blue) if picked too early. Plant is easy to grow but tends to overproduce if not pruned correctly.
Berkeley*
Bush: Vigorous, open-spreading, productive-very productive. Fruit cluster: Large, loose. Berry: Large-very large, light blue, firm, resistant to cracking, small-medium scar; flavor fair, mild, less acid than most cultivars, slightly aromatic. Fruit stores well. Plant is easy to grow, but does best in light, well-drained soil. Popular for U-pick, fresh, and processed markets.
Rancocas*
Bush: Vigorous, consistently productive. Berry: Medium-sized, poor quality, large picking scar; tendency for ripe fruit to crack during heavy rains. Berries ripen about 3 days after Bluecrop. Suitable only for processing. Cold hardiness is good.
Pemberton
Bush: Vigorous, erect, very productive. Fruit cluster: Loose. Berry: Medium-large, dark blue, firm, large scar; flavor fair, slightly aromatic. Easy to grow and prune, but more difficult to pick than most other cultivars and thus not suited for machine harvest.
Herbert*
Bush: Vigorous, open-spreading, consistently productive. Fruit cluster: Medium, loose. Berry: Large-very large, medium blue, medium firmness (fruit can be tender), resistant to cracking, medium scar; flavor very good, aromatic. Fruit does not shatter from bush.
Rubel*
Bush: Moderately vigorous, moderately productive. Berry: Small, firm, small picking scar; tends to retain stem if drought-stressed or not picked on time. Ripens about 2 weeks after Bluecrop. Suitable for processing. Cold hardiness is good.
Coville*
Bush: Vigorous, open-spreading, productive. Fruit cluster: Loose. Berry: Very large, medium blue, firm, resistant to cracking, medium scar; flavor good, tart, highly aromatic. Fruit does not drop quickly once ripe. Moderately resistant to Godronia canker.
Jersey*
Bush: Very vigorous, erect, productive. Fruit cluster: Loose. Berry: Medium, medium blue, firm, resistant to cracking, medium scar; flavor fair, no aroma. Well suited for the processed market.
Dixi
Bush: Vigorous, open-spreading, productive. Fruit cluster: Medium, tight. Berry: Large-very large, medium blue, firm, subject to cracking, large scar; flavor good to excellent, aromatic.
Darrow
Bush: Vigorous, erect, consistently productive. Fruit cluster: Medium, loose. Berry: Large-very large, light blue, firm, resistant to cracking, small-medium scar; flavor excellent, tart. Best suited for fresh market sales or U-pick.
Lateblue*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, consistently productive. Fruit cluster: Moderately loose. Berry: Medium-large, light-medium blue, firm, small-medium scar; flavor good to very good. Fruit ripening is concentrated. Suitable for machine harvest; however, high temperatures at harvest may cause stemminess.
Elliott*
Bush: Vigorous, erect, consistently productive. Fruit cluster: Loose. Berry: Medium, light blue, firm, small scar; flavor mild to good, slightly tart. Fruit ripening is concentrated.The following newly-released highbush blueberry cultivars have not yet been fully tested in the Pacific Northwest and are recommended for trial plantings only. Machine harvest characteristics are not yet known. Descriptions are based primarily on cultivar trials in the eastern U.S.
Sunrise
Early. Bush: Moderately vigorous, upright, moderately productive. Berry: Medium, small scar, firm, medium blue; flavor good.
Nelson
Mid- to late season. Bush: Vigorous, upright, productive, cold hardy. Berry: Very large, light blue, firm, medium scar; flavor good.
Sierra
Early to mid-season. Bush: Upright, vigorous, productive. Berry: Medium, small scar, light blue, firm; flavor good. Sierra is an interspecific hybrid of 4 species (V. darrowi, V. corymbosum, V. ashei, and V. constablaei) and requires high chilling like the “northern” high-bush cultivars grown in the Pacific Northwest. However, its adaptability is not yet known.
Bluegold
Late season with Jersey. Bush: Vigorous, but low-growing, extremely productive. Berry: Medium, light blue, firm, small scar; flavor good. Bluegold is closely related to Northland, but has a more upright growth habit and fruit has a longer shelf life. Likely to be well suited for fresh market.

Half-High Cultivars

These have been developed by crossing the highbush blueberry with the lowbush blueberry. These plants are short-statured, winter hardy, and have a fruit character similar to that of the highbush type. Although not all have been widely tested, some may be suitable for trial in areas with very cold winter temperatures. In hardiness tests, they have survived temperatures between -35 and -40 F, although the best survival occurred with 12 inches of snow cover. Survival decreased with snow coverage of more or less than 12 inches.

Northsky
Mid-late season. Bush: Short-statured (10 to 18 inches), dense, withstands temperatures between 35 and 40 F, moderately productive (1 to 2 lbs per plant). Berry: Medium, light blue; flavor good. Fruit stores well and has more of a “wild” blueberry flavor. Bush is attractive, compact, and highly branched, with dark green leaves in the summer and bright red in the fall. For trial plantings only.
Northblue
Mid-late season. Bush: Vigorous, low-statured (2 to 3 feet), withstands temperatures between 35 and 40 F, consistently productive (3 to 7 lbs per plant). Berry: Large, dark blue, firm, small scar, flavor good. Fruit stores well and has more of a “wild” blueberry flavor. Good for processing, U-pick, or local sales. Bush has large, glossy, dark green leaves and is attractive as an ornamental in home gardens. For trial plantings only.
Northcountry
Early mid-season, about 10 days before Bluecrop. Bush: Moderately vigorous, less than 3 feet high, productive. Berry: Medium, very light blue; flavor sweet, mild “wild” flavor. Bush habit, foliage, and bloom make this an attractive ornamental. For trial plantings only.
St. Cloud
Early, with Bluetta, hardy, 3 to 7 lbs fruit per plant. Bush: 3 to 4 feet at maturity. Berry: Large, medium blue, firm, small scar; good flavor. Concentrated ripening. Released from the Minnesota breeding program in 1990. For trial only in the Pacific Northwest.
Northland
Early season, before Bluecrop. Bush: Vigorous, moderately spreading, mature height about 4 feet, hardy, very productive. Berry: Medium, medium blue, moderately firm, small-medium scar; flavor good, sweet. Fruit ripening is concentrated. Good for processing or local sales. Prune plant to upright stature to machine pick. Tested in the Pacific Northwest.

Rabbiteye cultivars

There has been some interest in trial plantings of Rabbiteye blueberries in drought-susceptible areas. Rabbiteye cultivars are essentially self-sterile, so compatible cultivars must be interplanted for effective pollination. Plants reach heights of 6 to 15 feet depending on cultivar. Most cultivars are not as winter hardy as highbush cultivars.

Rabbiteye cultivars often have shiny blue-black colored fruit due to the absence of the waxy bloom found on highbush blue-berry fruit. Fruit ripening in rabbiteye cultivars is promoted by frequent harvests. In order of ripening (these cultivars have not been tested in the Pacific Northwest):

Climax
Early. Bush: Moderately vigorous, upright, spreading. Berry: Medium, medium to dark blue; flavor good. Concentrated ripening.
Premier
Early to early mid-season. Bush: Vigorous, productive. Berry: Large, light blue; flavor excellent.
Brightwell
Bush: Vigorous, upright. Berry: Large, firm, light blue, small scar; flavor good.
Bluebelle
Bush: Moderately vigorous, upright, productive. Berry: Large, light blue; flavor excellent.
Tifblue
Bush: Vigorous, erect. Berry: Medium-large, very light blue, firm, small scar; high dessert quality. Long harvest season; fruit may not ripen in the Pacific Northwest.
Centurion
Bush: Vigorous, productive, adapted to heavy soils. Berry: Medium blue, firm; excellent dessert quality. Late bloom and late ripening may make it unsuitable for the Pacific Northwest.

Recommended Cultivars for Colder Growing Regions

Although most of the blueberry production in the Pacific Northwest is west of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, there are areas in Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington that are also suitable for production. In these regions, growers must contend with shorter growing seasons and colder winter temperatures than their western counterparts, and selection of cold-hardy cultivars becomes especially important.

Although harvest dates for different blueberry cultivars vary tremendously, most cultivars bloom within about a week of one another. Thus, selecting a mid- to late season cultivar will not necessarily ensure a late bloom date and reduced susceptibility to spring frosts.

Of the mid-season cultivars, Spartan is noted for a later-than-average bloom. Late season cultivars Elliott, Jersey, and Lateblue tend to bloom later than early and mid-season cultivars.

Short growing seasons also create problems on high elevation sites where cultivars that ripen after Berkeley (such as Jersey, Darrow, Lateblue, and particularly Elliott) may not ripen reliably before fall frosts.

Cultivars listed in Table 1 should be cold hardy enough for suitable blueberry planting sites in central and eastern Oregon and Washington, and for northern and southwestern Idaho as well as other production regions.

For east-central and southeastern Idaho, as well as particularly cold sites in the Oregon counties of Grant and Umatilla, only the most cold-hardy cultivars should be considered. In these areas, snow cover will be important in preventing freezing injury, and winter injuries should be expected during cold winters when there is little or no snow.

Figure 1. Approximate fruiting season of various blueberry cultivars for western Oregon

Approximate fruiting season of various blueberry cultivars for western Oregon

Table 1. Cultivars with reportedly greater cold hardiness

Bluecrop Jersey Northsky
Bluejay Lateblue Patriot
Blueray Meader Rancocas
Earliblue Northcountry Rubel
Elliott Northblue Toro
Herbert Northland .

This fact sheet is adapted from Oregon State University Extension Publication PNW215, Highbush Blueberry Production. The authors of Highbush Blueberry Production are – Oregon State University: Bernadine Strik, Glenn Fisher, John Hart, Russ Ingham, Diane Kaufman, Ross Penhallegon, Jay Pscheidt and Ray William; Washington State University: Charles Brun, M. Ahmedullah, Art Antonelli, Leonard Askham, Peter Bristow, Dyvon Havens, Bill Scheer, and Carl Shanks; University of Idaho: Dan Barney. PNW215, Highbush Blueberry Production can be purchased from the Department of Extension & Experiment Station Communications, Oregon State University. How to OrderGet Adobe Acrobat Reader