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Blueberries

Vaccinium corymbosum

blueberries in someone's hand
Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

Importance of Blueberries to Oregon

Oregon grows the second most blueberries out of any state in the country. There are over 1,000 farms growing blueberries on 13,500 acres. In 2020 they grew 154 million pounds. That’s 24% of the whole country’s blueberries! They were worth around 120 million dollars and were the 11th most valuable crop to the state. Oregon exports blueberries to many countries. Argentina, France, Italy, and Japan are just a few of those countries.1

History of Blueberries

A very long time ago, blueberries only grew wild in Oregon. The state has a climate and soil that blueberry plants grow very well in. Native Americans used blueberries for many things. They were for food and medicine. They were also used for dye. 

blueberries in a wooden bowl on the grass
Image by Veronica Bosley from Pixabay

As time went on, blueberries began to be cultivated. They were grown and cared for purposefully. The best wild blueberries were chosen and bred to get the types we have today. Now there are many blueberry farms in the state. Some businesses do special processes with the berries. They can cool and freeze them fast for storage and shipping. This means Oregon blueberries can be sent across the world and be enjoyed by many people. Most blueberry farms and businesses are in the Willamette Valley.

 

Blueberry Varieties

Blueberry types are called cultivars. They are selectively created, or bred, for different qualities. The United States grows five main cultivars. The most common is northern highbush. The others are southern highbush, rabbiteye, lowbush, and half-high. They are each suited for different temperatures and growing styles.
Farmer standing in front of blueberry bushes holding a bin of blueberries

Northern Highbush

Northern highbush is the most common cultivar grown in Oregon and the world. These blueberries are native to the eastern and northeastern parts of the country. This cultivar grows from about 5 to 9 feet tall. Duke is one of the most popular varieties of Northern highbush. They are large blueberries that store and ship well. This makes them good for fresh market.

Rows of blueberry bushes

Southern Highbush

Southern highbush blueberries grow best in places with winters that aren’t too hot or too cold. Florida and California are good examples. They are usually 6-8 feet tall. Most blueberries lose their leaves in the winter. Southern highbush can be evergreen and keep their leaves. They can be grown in Oregon, but don’t produce very many blueberries. 

 

Young rabbiteye blueberry bush

Rabbiteye

Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the southeastern part of the country. They can be grown in Oregon, but usually like more heat than the state has. They can grow up to 10 feet tall. Rabbiteye grown in Oregon is usually smaller than in other places. They grow best in the Willamette Valley instead of east of the Cascades. They ripen in late summer or fall. 

lowbush blueberries being picked by a hand rake

Lowbush

Lowbush cultivars are low, just like their name says. They usually aren’t even 2 feet tall. These blueberry plants come from places with cold winters. They are native to Minnesota and Canada. Lowbush blueberries do grow fruit but not as much because they are small. People sometimes plant them in Oregon as shrubs. They are decorative but grow a tasty treat. 

person standing at table in front of rows of blueberry bushes

Half-High

Half-high blueberries are called that because they are half highbush and half lowbush. The two types of cultivars were crossed to create the half-highs. They get to be about 3-4 feet tall. This type of blueberry can survive in colder temperatures than many others. This is because they are hardy plants. They are sometimes used in gardens and landscaping in Oregon.2 

Honey bee on a blueberry blossom
Image by Boomie from Pixabay

Life Cycle of a Blueberry

Blueberries are perennial plants that are usually planted into a field when they are 1-3 years old. They are grown in a nursery before that. Blueberry bushes are usually planted in the fall or spring. They are dormant in the winter and buds start to break on the branches in early spring. 

Bloom and Pollination

Blueberry bushes bloom from late April to late May. Blueberries need to be pollinated to grow fruit. Some types have to be cross-pollinated, but not all. Farmers use honeybee hives to pollinate their fields. Usually 2-4 hives per acre. These honey bees visit flowers to collect nectar. As they collect nectar, they also collect pollen. That pollen ends up on the stigma of other flowers as the bees move around. Once they are pollinated the fruit will start to grow.3

Blueberry Harvest

Blueberry harvest can be from June through September. The harvest time is different for each variety. Some farms harvest blueberries by hand and some do it with machines. Most machine harvesters are tall and drive over the bushes. There are paddles that carefully shake and knock the berries off the bushes and onto a conveyor belt. They are then put into crates.  

 

A mechanical harvester in rows of blueberry bushes.
An over-the-row harvester picks Duke blueberries. Duke is a variety of Northern Highbush Blueberries. Duke is good for mechanical harvesting for the frozen market. (Image by Ross Courtney on Good Fruit Grower)

Pests and Diseases

Blueberries can be damaged by many different pests. Animals and insects and diseases all hurt the crop. The weather itself can also damage blueberries. For example, freezing temperatures can hurt berries. The weather each year plays into what insects and diseases are around. Because it rains a lot in Oregon, there can be a lot of diseases.
peach fuzzy mold on it

Botrytis

Botrytis is a fungus that spends the winter on dead twigs and weeds and unpicked blueberries. In the spring, botrytis spores are spread to other plants by wind and water. Blueberries are most likely to get infected while they are blooming. Botrytis can make growing berries rot and can prevent blooms from becoming blueberries. It can also damage the twigs and plants for more years.4

bluebird standing on the top of a birdhouse

Birds

Birds are a main pest in blueberries. They can eat all of the berries from a field. Farmers use different ways to try to keep birds away. Sometimes they use shiny and flashy things to scare them off. Some farmers use noise-making machines. Nets or coverings over the blueberry plants are also used at times. 

a close up of the insect and a white background

Spotted Wing Drosophila

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is the worst insect that blueberry plants face. It showed up in Oregon in 2009 and quickly became a problem. It is small and looks like a fruit fly. Female SWDs lay eggs inside of fruit that is growing. The larvae eat the fruit from the inside while it’s getting ripe. One female SWD can lay hundreds of eggs during her 3-4 week life.5

Hands with gloves on picking weeds in a garden

Weeds

Weeds of any kind are bad for blueberries. Other plants can steal the water and soil nutrients that the blueberry plants need. By removing or preventing weeds, blueberry plants don’t have to compete. Some farmers remove weeds by hand. Sometimes they will spray herbicides to prevent weeds from growing. Weed mats can also keep other plants away.

Uses for Blueberries

Blueberries have had many different uses throughout the years. Some people say there are many health benefits to eating blueberries. They are enjoyed fresh, frozen, and in many different products. Pies, pancakes, and fillings are common places to see blueberries. Many people eat them dried. Blueberry bushes are also beautiful shrubs for landscaping. Their colorful leaves make them good for placing around the yard.
salad with blueberries, radishes, and cheese
Image by National AITC Organization
Savory Blueberry Dishes

blueberry muffins on a plate
Image by Sofia Iivarinen from Pixabay
Sweet Blueberry Dishes

Fun Facts About Blueberries!

  • July is National Blueberry Month
  • The typical Oregon blueberry farm is 10 acres
  • Blueberries contain more than 15 vitamins and minerals
  • Blueberries can be used as a dye

Vocabulary Terms

Temperature, rain, and wind at a location over a period of years.

A moving strap that carries things from one place to another.

Using two plants to create a new plant with characteristics from both plants.

A variety of plant that has been selectively bred for desired characteristics.

To grow plants by plowing, weeding, or adding fertilizer.

Having green leaves that stay on a plant throughout the year.

To send to another country to sell.

Sold to be eaten fresh without freezing, cutting, or other changes.

Able to stand or live through harsh weather or bad conditions.

A substance used to kill or prevent unwanted plants.

An insect after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into an adult.

A plant that lives longer than two years.

The part of a plant that receives pollen.

Related Resources and Sources


       1Oregon Department of Agriculture. “OREGON AGRICULTURAL STATISTICS.” October 2021. https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/shared/Documents/Publications/Administration/ORAgFactsFigures.pdf.
        2Oregon State University. “Blueberry Cultivars for the Pacific Northwest.” February 2014. https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/pnw656/html.
        3Oregon State University. “Growing Berries on the Oregon Coast: Blueberries.” March 2018. https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9179/html.
       4PNW Pest Management Handbooks. “Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)-Botrytis Blight.” Accessed December 2021. https://pnwhandbooks.org/plantdisease/host-disease/blueberry-vaccinium-corymbosum-botrytis-blight.
      5Oregon State University. “2018 Blueberry Pest Management Guide for the Willamette Valley.” February 2018. https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em8538/html.  
       6Oregon Blueberries. “Oregon Blueberry Industry Facts at a Glance.” Accessed December 2021. https://www.oregonblueberry.com/pages/facts.html.