PROJECT LEADER(S): Dr. James R. Ballington
Commercial blueberry production in North Carolina primarily involves highbush blueberries, and the state has a unique marketing niche in late spring, which makes this crop especially attractive for expanded acreage and production. However, highbush blueberries are best adapted to the organic sand soils found in the coastal plain region of the state, and do not thrive on the red clay mineral soils that predominate in the piedmont. Rabbiteye blueberries will grow on piedmont mineral soils, however their fruit ripens too late to take advantage of the marketing niche that highbush growers enjoy. Hybridization of these two blueberry types, followed by backcrossing to highbush to get earlier ripening, and then intercrossing elite backcross genotypes, should yield segregates that are both early-ripening and adapted to mineral soils.
Elite parental rabbiteye x highbush blueberry F1ís and BC1ís of these hybrids to highbush were identified among seedling progenies growing on mineral soil at the Piedmont Research Station at Salisbury, NC, in 1997. These selections had good mineral soil adaptation but fruit quality was not sufficient to consider releasing any of them as cultivars. Elite backcross selections were intercrossed in 2002, the seeds germinated in 2003, and seedlings transplanted into a mineral soil site on the Piedmont Research Station in winter 2003. Rabbiteye blueberry seedlings were also included in the planting as a control, soil adaptation-wise.
There are no results to report at this time because the seedlings have only recently been established. However based on the results with the progenies from which the parents involved in these crosses were selected, they should segregate both for ripening season and mineral soil adaptation.
No definite conclusions can be reached at the present time because several years of growth and evaluation will be required to complete the experiment.
Updated February, 2005