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New Blueberry Blooms Late, Ripens Early

By Jim Core
July 26, 2002

A newly released early-season blueberry cultivar from the Agricultural Research Service and University of Georgia joint breeding program protects itself against late freeze damage by blooming a little later, but still delivers early fruit. It may be a few more summers before the new cultivar, Alapaha (pronounced ah-LAH-pa-ha), is available to consumers, but it has qualities that should make the wait worthwhile.

Alapaha ripens as early as Climax, the most popular early-season rabbiteye variety. But Climax has been subject to moderate to severe freeze damage during bloom for at least four of the last 10 years. Because Alapaha blooms later than Climax, it receives up to 10 days more protection from late freezes. Both of these cultivars ripen in late May to mid-June, a lucrative market window for growers in the southeastern United States.

The rabbiteye blueberry is grown on more than 95 percent of the commercial blueberry acreage in the region and is the more vigorous of the two types of blueberries producers grow in the southeastern United States. The other type, southern highbush, typically flowers and ripens earlier.

Alapaha was jointly released recently by the University of Georgia and ARS’ Small Fruit Research Station in Poplarville, Miss. According to horticulturist James M. Spiers, the station’s research leader, Alapaha will be available for commercial growers and home gardens in the fall of 2003 and should be widely available in markets within a few years.

According to Spiers, Alapaha is more vigorous and grows faster than Climax. Alapaha also produces significantly more stems after harvest that renew the plant and develop new fruit the following year. Its berries are medium size with excellent firmness, color, flavor and small dry scars that help give the berries a longer shelf life.

Alapaha, named after the Alapaha River, is the first of several new cultivars to be named after south Georgia rivers and scheduled for release during the next five years.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

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