Performance of Newly Released and Well-Established Rabbiteye Blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) Cultivars in North Alabama
Type of Degreethesis
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Rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei Reade) are the primary blueberry species produced in Alabama. Many cultivars of rabbiteye blueberry have been recently developed with diverse vegetative and cropping characteristics, but scientific data on their performance in Alabama is limited. An experiment was established at the North Alabama Horticulture Research Center, Cullman, AL (lat. 34° 11' N, long. -86° 47' E), USDA Hardiness Zone 7B, to evaluate the performance and horticultural value of the following rabbiteye blueberry cultivars: ‘Alapaha', 'Baldwin', 'Brightwell', 'Climax', 'Ira', 'Montgomery', 'Onslow', 'Powderblue', ' Premier', 'Tifblue', and 'Yadkin'. Cultivar flowering and ripening season, yield potential, fruit quality characteristics, plant ornamental qualities, and vegetative growth were investigated during 2009 and 2010. ‘Alapaha’, ‘Climax’, and ‘Premier’ were found to have early ripening in north Alabama. ‘Alapaha’ flowered later than the earliest flowering cultivars, but ripened consistently early, and this later flowering can serve to protect ‘Alapaha’ from late frosts. Cultivars were not found to differ with respect to their cumulative yield in their fifth and sixth leaf. ‘Brightwell’ and ‘Climax’ had the firmest berries, while ‘Climax’ and ‘Premier’ had the sweetest berries. Additionally, studies focused on cultivar ornamental qualities were conducted to evaluate and compare their ornamental qualities for use as functional landscape plants by analyzing berry fall foliage color, surface color, summer foliage color, and bush form. ‘Alapaha’ and ‘Yadkin’ had long lasting red fall foliage, with ‘Alapaha’ having duller and darker fall color and ‘Yadkin’ displaying a lighter, more intense fall color. ‘Ira’ and ‘Premier’ were found to have intense, long lasting fall color that was more yellow. ‘Powderblue’ had the most waxy and attractive summer foliage and berry. ‘Alapaha’ and ‘Onslow’ cultivars were found to have the most upright growing habit. ‘Austin’ and ‘Climax’ rabbiteye blueberries grown on two soil types in Columbia, AL (lat. 31° 15' N, long. -85° 9' E; Plant Hardiness Zone 8A), were compared with respect to vegetative growth, yield, and fruit quality in order to evaluate the effect of the soil quality based on land’s prior use. The soil previously used for crop production was found to have above 2% soil organic matter, and the soil previously left to pasture was found to have approximately twice as much organic matter. Foliar analysis revealed little difference in the elemental content of the leaves from plants grown on old crop land and pasture land. Fruit set was higher on pasture land, and yields were found to be as much as three times higher for plants grown on pasture land than those grown on old crop land. Plants grown on pasture land were also found to be noticeably more vigorous on the pasture land as well. Higher plant vigor and yields may be a result of the alleviation of establishment stress provided by the higher organic content found on the pasture land site.