Types of Blueberries: Which is Just Right for Your Garden?
Did you know that there are different types of blueberries? Different species, actually – each with unique blueberry varieties.
If you want to grow blueberries, it’s important that you choose the correct species of blueberry plant for your area.
If you choose the wrong type of blueberry for your area, at best you’ll probably end up with a mediocre performer.
At worst, your blueberry plant won’t even survive.
So it’s important for you to know which blueberry species is recommended for your geographical region.
On this page, I’m going to give an overview of the 3 main types of blueberries.
From the information on this page you’ll be able to determine which type of blueberry plant is most adapted to your area.
Once you’ve made that decision, then you can click on the provided link to a page where I’ll list some of the most popular varieties for the type of blueberry you’re interested in. Hopefully, you’ll end up knowing exactly which blueberry plants to buy for your garden.
This issue can sometimes be confusing for newbie blueberry growers. But I’ll do my best to provide clear explanations of the different types of blueberries and where they should be grown.
Feel free to use the form at the bottom of this page if you have any questions.
NOTE: You’ll need to know your hardiness zone to determine which type of blueberry will work best for you. Don’t know it? Click here.
A Brief Background…
Blueberries are native to North America. They grow wild in a wide variety of environmental conditions, ranging from the Arctic Circle to the Florida panhandle.
All of the different blueberry varieties available to gardeners and farmers are the result of breeding programs that have taken the best characteristics of wild blueberries and refined them.
But the resulting cultivars retain the environmental constraints of their wild ancestors; a plant whose ancestor grew wild in the arctic will not do well in a gulf coast state.
So while the modern blueberry varieties that have resulted from breeding programs are vastly superior to their wild ancestors, they retain some of their ancestor’s limitations. And these limitations are what determine whether a blueberry variety will do well in your garden environment.
New varieties of blueberries come along fairly frequently. In fact, the blueberry breeding industry is quite young compared to many other cultivated fruits. Apples, for instance, have been selected and bred for superior characteristics for centuries.
But most of the popular varieties of blueberries have been developed within the last half-century.
If you’re out hiking in the Alaskan wilderness and find some blueberries to nibble on along the way (or spot a grizzly doing the same – eek!), those are lowbush blueberries.
Lowbush blueberry plants are the most cold hardy of all blueberry species, and conversely, the least heat tolerant.
The lowbush blueberry is named accurately, because, well …it grows as a low bush. A foot and a half is about the maximum height attained by lowbushes, so it’s almost more of a ground covering than a bush (and can be used in landscaping as an ornamental ground cover).
But it does produce blueberries, and very tasty ones at that. They tend to be small, but sweet and flavorful, and loaded with the same healthful nutrients as their more bodacious blueberry cousins.
Although all types of blueberries grow wild, the term ‘wild blueberries’ is most often applied to lowbush berries.
Lowbush blueberries are grown for commercial production, but this usually involves the grower managing a wild acreage rather than planting a new acreage. Often a grower will take an existing field of wild-growing lowbush plants and encourage maximum production out of the wild plants by removing trees and competing plants. Home gardeners most commonly grow lowbush berries in containers or as an ornamental landscaping plant.
Lowbush blueberries will handle about any cold climate, but may do poorly in warmer climates. They are recommended for hardiness zones 2 to 6.
There are also some blueberry varieties available that are crosses between highbush and lowbush blueberries. These are called ‘half-high’ varieties, and as expected, exhibit some of the characteristics of both highbush and lowbush blueberries.
Half-high blueberries generally grow to a maximum height of between 2 to 4 feet, and are recommended for hardiness zones 3 to 5.
Highbush plants are less cold hardy than lowbush plants, but more heat tolerant. Highbush plants are the dominant plant of the commercial blueberry industry.
And again, they are descriptively named. They grow much taller than the lowbush varieties, and grow as a true bush. The height of highbush blueberries varies among the different varieties of highbush, but left unpruned, some varieties may reach heights of up to 12 feet.
The fruit of the highbush blueberry is larger than that of the lowbush, with generally good fruit quality. Size, flavor and texture of fruit can vary considerably among the different varieties of highbush plants.
Highbush blueberries are recommended for hardiness zones 4 to 7. Some highbush plants that are more adapted to the southern part of the hardiness range are referred to as ‘southern highbush’ plants.
Rabbiteye blueberries are the most vigorous of all types of blueberries. If left unpruned, some rabbiteye varieties can reach heights of over 20 feet.
Rabbiteyes are the most heat tolerant and the least cold hardy of blueberries. This makes them very adaptable to the southern United States, where the commercial production of rabbiteye blueberries is rapidly expanding.
In regions that are well suited to rabbiteye blueberries (so named because the coloring of the whitish-pink ripening fruit supposedly resembles a rabbit’s eye) they are probably the easiest of all blueberry types to grow.
The fruit of the rabbiteye blueberry ranges from medium to very large, with good fruit quality. As with the highbush, the size, flavor and texture of fruit can vary considerably among the different varieties of rabbiteyes.
Rabbiteye blueberries are recommended for hardiness zones 7 to 10.