It's mid-June in Georgia and the rabbiteye blueberries are just beginning to ripen. The unripe fruit is said to look like a white rabbit's eye - yeah, it kinda does...
Without pruning, most varieties of rabbiteye blueberries are rather open, spreading shrubs that grow up to 12 ft (3.7 m) tall. Shoots often sprout from the roots producing new bushes. Its deciduous leaves, often whitish or bluish underneath, turn orange and red in fall. Little pink bell-like flowers appear in early spring with the new leaves and sometimes get caught by late frosts. The powdery blue berries that follow are
a delight to the eye and palate and are relished by many kinds of birds. There are many cultivars of rabbiteyes available to the home gardener. Some commonly found at home and garden centers include 'Climax', 'Bluebelle', 'Tifblue', 'Bonita', 'Briteblue', 'Woodward', 'Southland', and 'Premier'.
Location Vaccinium ashei is native to the southeastern U.S. where they occur in mixed woods, on high banks along streams or rivers, and in pine flatwoods communities. They are cultivated commercially from Virginia and Tennessee, west to Arkansas and Texas, and south to central Florida. The related highbush blueberries (V. corymbosum) are grown farther north.
Rabbiteye blueberries are among the easiest fruits to grow IF you have the right kind of soil. They will not tolerate clay or water-logged soils, and like azaleas, they must have a low pH (4.2 to 5.5). When planting, space them 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m) apart in full sun to partial shade. Once established, they usually won't need to be irrigated. They cannot tolerate most well water, because of the high pH. The roots remain close to the soil's surface and are damaged by even light cultivation. To control weeds and conserve soil moisture, mulch heavily with pine straw. Use only acid type fertilizer (such as used for azalea and camellias) at low rates and keep it away from the base of the stems. Blueberries are easily killed by excessive fertilizer. Light: Sun, but can tolerate considerable shade. Moisture: They are partial to sandy, acid soils and will tolerate brief flooding as well as drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7-9. Propagation: Division of clumps.
Rabbiteye blueberries grow as tall open shrubs which makes picking the fruit a pleasure - no stooping or sore backs!
Often overlooked for home landscaping, Rabbiteyes are good no-maintenance plants. They can also be pruned to make wildlife attracting hedges. If azaleas or native blueberries are growing on a site, you can be sure this shrub will do well. Rabbiteye cultivars are self-unfruitful -- you must have 2 or more planted together to get fruit. Plant as many different cultivars as you can to extend the harvest season. This will also give you the opportunity to decide which ones are best for you. Bees are the most common pollinators, especially bumblebees. Rabbiteyes have few pest or disease problems and usually do not require spraying. You will have to cover the bushes with netting to protect your harvest from mockingbirds and their kin.
Rabbiteye blueberries were named for their pinkish immature fruits which suggest an albino rabbit's eye. They have soft, blue-green leaves in the summer, followed by orange and crimson foliage in the fall. The southeastern United States is home to many other members of the genus Vaccinium including deerberry (V. stamineum) which are also tasty to wildlife and humans. The sparkleberry (V. arboreum), also called the farkleberry (great name!), grows to tree size and although the fruit is bitter it is devoured by birds and other wildlife.