Rabbiteyes get the name rabbiteye from the fact that the blueberries are pinkish-white unripe resembling the eyes of an albino rabbit before they turn blue. Highbush blueberries (V. corymbosum) grow naturally in northeastern United States. One of the most common wild northern highbush blueberries that is still very popular is Rubel which is very high in antioxidants. Rubel is one of the oldest varieties from the early 1900’s. Highbush bushes are not called highbush in relation to rabbiteye plants in fact it is shorter than rabbiteye plants. Highbush has its name because in comparison to lowbush blueberries it is taller. Lowbush generally produce small berries that are excellent for use in pastries. Rubel is an example of this type of blueberry and is very high in antioxidants. Another common blueberry bush name is Southern Highbush Blueberry. Southern Highbush blueberries bushes are often a cross between a rabbiteye and a northern highbush or lowbush blueberry plant. Certain of these new southern highbush varieties have low-chill requirements of only 200 to 300 hours at temperatures of 45 degrees F and lower. This has made it possible to extend blueberry production as far south as Florida. The chilling hour’s requirement for rabbiteye plants is350 to 650 for regular leaf and bloom development. The chilling requirements for northern highbush are 650 to 1000 hours.
Southern highbush varieties
Southern highbush varieties do offer several important advantages such as being thinner skinned and the fact that they ripen 1 to 3 weeks earlier than the earliest ripening rabbiteye cultivars. The blueberries from southern highbush are as large as and often larger than rabbiteye blueberries which make it more desirable for fresh and processing markets. The plants are less vigorous, and plants do not become as tall as rabbiteyes, they are usually lower yielding, and are more vulnerable to diseases and insects. The low chilling requirement of the southern highbush promotes very early flowering and much greater danger of late spring frosts damage.
Rabbiteyes flower before highbush blueberries, making them more susceptible to spring frosts. Highbush blueberries can also be affected by spring frost and the time they flower time may only be a week or two later. But a week or two in the spring can be the difference between having a crop and losing the crop or having a smaller crop. Even though they bloom later than rabbiteye, most highbush blueberries ripen about a month before the rabbiteye. The fruits of Highbush blueberry are typically larger; their fruit is jucier, and their skin is thinner. Quality of highbush after freezing is quite high while the skin of rabbiteyes after freezing becomes tougher. When it comes to eating fresh the rabbiteyes may be somewhat sweeter. After freezing, highbush blueberries might may be more tender. Highbush blueberries are vulnerable to several diseases. Rabbiteyes are virtually disease free and tend to have much longer fruitful lives. In 20 years the rabbiteyes will still be producing but the highbush may not.
Northern Highbush blueberries
Northern high-bush varieties are the most widely planted blueberries in the world. They are types of bushes that need a high number of “chill hours” to get their fruit set. If these northern high-bush varieties do not get the required number of chill hours they will not produce. These bushes are rated zone 4 through zone 7 which includes most of the Central, Western, mid-West, and Eastern United States as well as some parts of Canada. Highbush (northern) blueberries will do well in most locations in Kentucky, while rabbiteyes may do alright in warm southern parts. In Kentucky rabbiteyes flower one to one and a half weeks before highbush blueberries making them more susceptible to late spring frost damage. Harvest for rabbiteye is however later than that of highbush cultivars.
Rabbiteyes need to be cross-pollination in order to be fertilized. Rabbiteyes are not self pollinating. You must plant more than one variety for cross-pollination to occur. It is suggested that you plant both highbush and rabbiteye in suitable growing zones that have different ripening times. That way you can have blueberries almost the entire season and you can decide for yourself which blueberries you prefer. The different species of both cultivars have blueberries that vary in sweetness and taste.
Favorite northern highbushes include Hannah’s choice, Blueray, Bluegold, Bluecrop,. Duke, Elliot, and Jersey.
Favorite southern highbushes include ‘Ozarkblue, Legacy, Misty, Gulf Coast, O’Neal Sharpblue and Sunshine blue,.
Ozarkblue is not a rabbiteye however like rabiteyes is drought resistance. Ozarkblue is a favorite variety that has other outstanding characteristics. It is not bothered by heat, does not need as much irrigation, resists spring frosts, and is one of the highly productive plants producing excellent highbush berries. Unlike rabbiteye it is self pollinating. It is a mid/late crop, just before the rabbiteyes.
Favorite rabbiteye plants include Climax, Brightwell, Premier, Tifblue, and Powderblue.
Premier and Tifblue are common choices for rabbiteyes. They are both highly productive. Premier Rabbiteye has excellent flavor and it stores very well. Tifblue is the latest ripening of the rabbiteye varieties.
Tifblue is considered among best rabbiteyes. The Tiftblue blueberries are among the most flavorful rabbiteye blueberries. They are more capable of surviving cold than other rabbiteye blueberries varieties. It should probably be the main rabbiteye variety in any garden. Tifblue blueberry is a hybrid cultivar that has helped initiate the rise of the dramatic growth in growing rabbiteye blueberries. This growth has developed into a new blueberry Agricultural bonanza that is reshaping the economy of the South.
By selecting several varieties with different ripening times the length of your harvest time can be spread out. Rabbiteyes do not ripen all at the same time. The berries may ripen over a several week period. Here are some of the most popular rabbiteye blueberries today according to their ripening season.
Popular Rabbiteye varieties.