Last week I gave a talk near Memphis at an Urban Forestry meeting. I discussed native plants that can be used in combination with trees. As I delivered the talk and interacted with the crowd, I was frustrated all over again by the lack of availability of native plants.
I can recommend all kinds of groovy stuff but if the plants aren’t available people are not able to use them. What a quandary!
A few native plants have made their way into the mainstream and are sold in most garden centers. One of my favorites among these is the rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei). Rabbiteye blueberries are the cousins of the huckleberries that grow in my woods. In Mississippi they are not as wide spread as huckleberries and are native to only about 6 counties. They are, however, adapted to just about any garden situation (except limestone based soils) in zone 7 and south.
If you’ve ever been to a blueberry farm, you’ve probably seen the shrubs lined out in an agricultural configuration. In a home garden, blueberries can be used simply as landscape plants. The shrubs attain a height of about six feet and have a graceful form with arching branches. I use them most often as part of a hedge or seasonal screen.
I incorporate the rabbiteye blueberry into just about every landscape plan that I draw. It is a beautiful shrub with glaucous blue leaves, white late winter flowers and scattered red leaves in fall. During late spring and early summer, the tasty cobalt blue berries are produced abundantly.
Most gardeners enjoy picking the fruit or eating it right off the plant. Those who never get around to harvesting the berries can rest assured that the resident wildlife will feast on it just as the native pollinators seek out the flowers.
I had never noticed how beautiful blueberries were at this growth stage until yesterday when this 'Georgia Gem' fruit display stopped me in my tracks.
Rabbiteye blueberries thrive in sun and acid soil. At my place, I’ve found that they produce plenty of fruit in partly sunny edge of the woods situations. They produce most abundantly if two or three varieties are planted and can cross pollinate. The plants are almost pest free. To encourage the production of plump juicy berries, irrigation and mulching may be needed.
Now that I’m setting up a couple of beehives, I want to add to my blueberry collection. I already have the varieties, ‘Climax’, ‘Woodard’ and ‘Georgia Gem’. All three are great plants but I am particularly impressed with ‘Georgia Gem’ which is loaded this year with an obscene amount of fruit.
I was checking out the Dodd and Dodd Nursery website and saw that my friends Tommy and Thayer Dodd are offering two blueberry selections that I have to have.
Tommy’s Dad, the late Tom Dodd Jr., was an icon in the southern nursery business. He loved blueberries so he seeded out rabbiteye blueberries and selected the seedlings with the best tasting fruit.
I’m looking forward to trying ‘Pop’s #2’ and ‘Red Red’. Apparently, Thayer named ‘Red Red’ for its outstanding fall color. So ‘Red Red’ has the double whammy!
I’m not sure if it was the cold winter or the recent rains (probably both) but all my blueberry bushes appear to have set a bumper crop this year. I’m full of admiration for their beauty right now but am really looking forward to chowing down later.