Blueberry Varieties for Michigan (E1456)

A guide to blueberry varieties in Michigan.

Site selection

The traditional range for highbush blueberry production is south of a line extending from Muskegon to the lower end of Saginaw Bay. Commercial production is difficult north of this line because of the combination of a shorter growing season (highbush varieties generally need more than 160 frost-free days) and increasingly severe winter temperatures (-20 to -25 degrees F will injure most highbush varieties). Acceptable highbush production can be accomplished in northern Michigan, however, in those zones moderated by the effects of the Great Lakes (USDA hardiness zones 5 to 6; Figure 1). Most areas above this line are in zones 4 to 5, and “half-high” types are the best choice in these areas. Use only half-high varieties in zone 3. Half-high varieties are hybrids of highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium). They are low in stature (2 to 4 feet tall) and tolerate more severe winter conditions than most highbush varieties.

Blueberries require specific soil conditions for good growth and production. Optimum soils are sandy, high in organic matter and very acidic (optimum pH 4.5 to 5.0). Native “blueberry soils” generally have a shallow water table (2 to 3 feet depth), which supplies uniform moisture during the growing season. Flooded soils are undesirable, and some varieties like Bluecrop and Duke are readily damaged by high moisture levels. Blueberries can be grown on upland soils — those with low organic content and a deep water table — but plants require more inputs and generally grow more slowly. Consult Extension bulletin E-564, “Hints on Growing Blueberries,” for complete information on blueberry culture.

Variety selection

Choose varieties adapted to Michigan conditions. Varieties have been bred for use from Florida through Michigan, so consider only regionally adapted types. When possible, determine what varieties have performed well for other growers in your area. If local information is limited, consider starting a small test planting of several varieties before you plant on a large scale. Also, consider the intended use — some varieties are better suited to freezing/processing, fresh shipping, pick-your-own or on-farm sales.

Consider several characteristics when you select varieties: picking season, yield, fruit quality, hardiness, harvesting ease, amount of pruning required and disease resistance. These traits are listed in Tables 1 and 2, and Figure 2.

The most important varieties in Michigan are currently Bluecrop, Jersey, Elliott, Duke, Rubel and Bluejay. Jersey and Rubel have long been the backbone of the Michigan industry, but planting of these varieties has declined over the past several decades. Bluecrop has been the most widely planted cultivar over the past 25 years. It is favored for its very high, dependable yields. Elliott and Duke have become very popular in the last decade, Elliott for its very late harvest and storability, and Duke for its large, firm fruit, late bloom and early harvest. Bluejay has been a minor variety for years, being desired for its high-quality, machine-harvested fruit. At one time, Spartan and Patriot showed promise in Michigan, but Spartan has proven difficult to grow on all but the best blueberry sites, and Patriot is very early blooming and subject to spring frosts.

The USDA released a large group of additional cultivars in the past two decades, including Bluegold, Chandler, Legacy, Little Giant, Nelson, Sierra, Sunrise and Toro. Nelson is highly recommended for trial because it is an upright, high-yielding bush with flavorful, firm fruits that are retained on the bush without deteriorating (hang well). Toro is attractive because of its very high fruit quality, but it has the same fruiting season as Bluecrop and lower yields. Little Giant is promising because it has very small fruit that hang well and are appropriate for the processed market, but it is low in stature and bushy and may need a pollinizer. Bluegold has the potential for very high yields and fruit appear to store well, but it is very bushy and not as late as was initially hoped. Sierra, Chandler and Legacy are not sufficiently winter hardy for the most northern production regions.

Other recent northern highbush releases include Bonus, Chanticleer and Friendship. Friendship is a wild clone from Wisconsin that was released because it is unusually cold hardy for a highbush type; however, it has very small, dark fruit and has not performed better than half-high types in very cold locations such as Minnesota. Bonus shows promise as a large-fruited late type but is little tested. Chanticleer is a very early type that may compete with Weymouth in New Jersey, though it appears highly susceptible to spring frosts and has been little tested. A number of northern highbush types have also been released out of the breeding programs in Arkansas, Florida and North Carolina, but these are probably of insufficient hardiness for areas with very cold winters and frosty springs.

Several northern highbush types have been released from Australia, New Zealand and Germany, including Bluerose, Brigitta, Denise (Australia), Gila and Greta (Germany), and Puru, Nui and Reka (New Zealand). The Australian cultivars were selected from seed sent by Stanley Johnson of Michigan State University in 1970. Nui and Puru have exceptionally large fruit, though they have not proven winter hardy in very cold locations such as Minnesota. Brigitta shows high promise as a very firm, long-storage type, but it is relatively untested in North America and may be insufficiently hardy for colder areas of the state.

Of the half-highs, Northblue has become the most popular. It propagates well, has among the largest fruit, is consistently productive and is highly self-fertile, though it does better with a pollinizer. St. Cloud is dropping in popularity because it is difficult to propagate by tissue culture and needs a pollinizer. Northland has the best overall fruit quality of the half-highs and is now grown to some extent in traditional highbush zones because of its high productivity. Northsky and North Country are very low in stature and are only occasionally planted. The most recent releases, Polaris and Chippewa, have among the largest fruit and can be used to extend the fruiting season.

Specific recommendations — southern Michigan

The varieties most adapted for mechanical harvesting are Bluecrop, Bluejay, Duke, Elliott, Jersey, Little Giant, Nelson, Patriot, Rubel and Spartan. The most desirable of these for commercial processing uses are the smaller fruited varieties Jersey, Little Giant and Rubel. Varieties best suited for fresh packing and shipping include Bluecrop, Bluejay, Duke, Elliott, Nelson and Toro. Varieties adequate for “U-Pick” marketing are Berkeley, Bluecrop, Bluejay, Blueray, Burlington, Collins, Coville, Duke, Elliott, Jersey, Lateblue, Nelson, Northland, Patriot, Rubel, Spartan and Toro.

Specific recommendations — northern Michigan

Choose varieties with sufficient hardiness. For processed uses, consider highbush Blueray, Jersey, Northland and Patriot, and half-high Northblue and Chippewa. Suitable varieties for fresh fruit sales are highbush Blueray, Bluetta and Patriot, and half-high Northblue and Chippewa.

Table 1. Characteristics of common blueberry varieties in Michigan

Cultivar

Season

Yield in Michigan

Size

Fruit quality

Color

Scar

Firmness

Flavor

Berkeley

Midseason

Moderat

Large

Light blue

Large, but dry

Firm

Fair, low acid

Bonus

Midseason

Moderate

Very large

Light blue

Small

Firm

Good

Bluecrop

Midseason

Moderate to high

Medium to large

Light blue

Small

Very firm

Good, tart

Bluegold

Late

High

Medium

Light blue

Small

Firm

Good

Bluehaven

Early midseason

Low to moderat

Medium

Light blue

Small

Firm

Fair

Bluejay

Early midseason

Moderate to high

Medium

Light blue

Small

Very firm

Mild, slightly tart

Blueray

Midseason

Moderate to high

Large

Medium blue

 Medium

Firm

Good

Bluetta

Very early

Erratic; moderate to high

Medium

Medium blue

Medium

Medium

Fair

Brigitta

Late

Low to moderate

Large

Light blue

Small

Very firm

Good

Burlington

Late

Moderate to high

Medium

Light blue

Small

Firm

Good

Chippewa

Midseason

Moderate

Medium

Very light blue

Small to medium

Medium to firm

Good

Collins

Early midseason

Moderate

Large

Light blue

Small

Firm

Good

Coville

Late midseason

Moderate

Very large

Medium blue

Medium

Firm

Good, tart

Darrow

Late

Low

Large

Light blue

Small

Firm

Excellent

Duke

Early

High

Large

Medium blue

Small

Firm

Good

Earliblue

Very early

Low to moderate

Medium

Medium blue

Medium

Medium

Good

Elliott

Very late

Very high

Medium

Light blue

Small

Very firm

Good

Jersey

Late midseason

Moderate to high

Medium

Light blue

Medium

Firm

Fair

Lateblue

Very late

Moderate

Medium to large

Dark blue

Medium

Firm

Fair, tart

Little Giant

Midseason

High

Very small

Medium blue

Medium

Medium

Good

Nelson

Late

High

Large

Light blue

Small

Firm

Good

Northblue

Early to midseason

Low to moderate

Medium

Dark blue

Medium

Medium

Fair, acid

Northcountry

Early midseason

Low

Very small

Light blue

Small to medium

Soft

Good, sweet

Northland

Early midseason

Very high

Medium

Medium blue

Medium

Soft

Fair

Northsky

Midseason

Low

Very small

Light blue

Small to medium

Soft

Good, sweet

Patriot

Early midseason

High

Large

Medium blue

Small

Firm

Excellent

Polaris

Early

Moderate

Medium

Light blue

Small

Firm

Excellent

Rancocas

Midseason

Moderate to high

Small

Dark blue

Medium

Firm, can crack

Good

Rubel

Midseason

Moderate to high

Small to medium

Medium blue

Medium

Firm

Fair

Sierra

Midseason

Low to medium

Medium

Light blue

Small

 Firm

Good

St. Cloud

Early

Moderate

Medium to large

Dark blue

Medium to large

Medium

Excellent

Spartan

Early midseason

Moderate to high

Larg

Light blue

Medium

Firm

Excellent

Toro

Midseason

Moderate

Large

Light blue

Small

Firm

Good

Sunrise

Early midseason

Low

Medium

Medium blue

Medium

Medium

Good

Weymouth

Very early

Moderate

Medium to small

Dark blue

Medium

soft

poor

Table 2. Characteristics of common blueberry varieties in Michigan.

Cultivar

Growth habit

Hardiness

Propagation ease

Amount of pruning

Known disease reactions

Berkeley

Upright, bushy

Limited

Easy

Moderate

Susceptible to mummyberry and phomopsis canker; resistant to powdery mildew

Bonus

Upright, open

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

 

Bluecrop

Upright, open

Hardy

Difficult

Moderate

Moderately resistant to mummyberry, powdery mildew and red ringspot; very resistant to shoestring

Bluegold

Low, bushy

Hardy

Easy

High

Susceptible to mummyberry

Bluehaven

Low, bushy

Limited

Intermediate

Moderate

Susceptible to mummyberry and phomopsis canker

Bluejay

Upright, open

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to shoestring and mummyberry

Blueray

Upright, open

Very hardy

Easy

High

Susceptible to mummyberry and anthracnose

Bluetta

Low, bushy

Moderate

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to phomopsis canker; susceptible to mummyberry

Burlington

Upright, bushy

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to mummyberry; susceptible to shoestring

Chippewa

Upright, half-high

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate

 

Collins

Moderately upright

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

Susceptible to mummyberry

Coville

Upright, open

Limited

Easy

Moderate

Moderately resistant to mummybery, powdery mildew, fusicoccum canker

Darrow

Low, bushy

Limited

Intermediate

Moderate

Resistant to mummyberry and shoestring

Duke

Upright, open

Moderate to hardy

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to mummyberry

Earliblue

Upright, bushy

Moderate

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to powdery mildew, susceptible to shoestring, mymmyberry, phomopsis canker

Elliott

Upright, bushy

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to mummyberry, phomopsis canker and anthracnose; susceptible to shoestring

Jersey

Upright, bushy

Hardy

Intermediate

Moderate

Moderate resistance to mummyberry, red ringspot; susceptible to shoestring and blueberry leaf mottle viruses and phomopsis twig blight

Lateblue

Upright, open

Very hardy

Intermediate

Moderate

Resistant to mummyberry

Little giant

Spreading, bushy

Hardy

Intermediate

Heavey

Resistant to anthracnose

Nelson

Upright, open

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate

 

Northblue

Upright, half-high

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to mummyberry

Northcountry

Very low, bushy

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate

 

Northland

Low, bushy

Very hardy

Easy

Heavy

Resistant to shoestring; susceptible to mummyberry

Northsky

Very low, bushy

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to mummyberry

Patriot

Moderately

Very hardy upright, open

Easy

Moderate

Resistant to phytophthora root rot

Polaris

Spreading, half-high

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate

 

Rancocas

Moderately upright, bushy

Very hardy

Easy

Moderate to heavy

Moderately susceptible to mummyberry and shoe string; resistant to fusicoccum canker and powdery mildew

Rubel

Upright, open

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

Susceptible to mummyberry, necrotic ringspot, mosaic, blueberry leaf mottle, and shoestring; moderately resistant to fusicoccum canker

Sierra

Upright, open

Moderate

Easy

Moderate

Susceptible to mummyberry and unknown flagging

St. Cloud

Upright, half-high

Very hardy

Difficult

Moderate

 

Spartan

Upright, open

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

Moderately resistant to mummyberry; susceptible to shoestring

Sunrise

Low, bush

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

 

Toro

Upright, open

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

 

Weymouth

Low, bushy

Hardy

Easy

Moderate

Susceptible to mummyberry and shoestring

Planting Stock

Buy plants that have a state certificate of inspection indicating they are free from visible diseases. Some nurseries also participate in a state virus-free certification program, which provides protection against latent virus diseases. Plant 2-year-old plants, if available. Three-year-old plants are satisfactory but can cost more. If you do plant stock older than 3 years, make sure they were not culls that were too weak to sell as 2- or 3-year-olds. Most commercial growers plant 2-year-old plants.

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