Blueberries (Vaccinium species) are a highly nutritious, flavorful fruit with many types native to the United States. Blueberries are not only desirable for their taste and health benefits, but the shrubs themselves are an attractive and hardy addition to any landscape. A wide range of blueberry varieties fall into three primary groups--from those carefully cultivated to grow in cooler climates (northern highbush plants) to wild blueberries.
Northern Highbush Varieties
Sometimes simply called highbush blueberries, these varieties tolerate cold temperatures much better than all other types of blueberries, according to Gary Gao, a horticulturist with Ohio State University. These blueberries will produce fruit even if exposed to ongoing freezes, although they will not live long if exposed to temperatures below -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Varieties include Bluetta, which thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture growing zones 4 through 7. Bluetta blooms later in the spring, but the fruit ripens early. This variety is also prolific, yieling a large amount of medium-sized berries. Bluetta grows to 5 feet tall and has bright red leaves in the fall.
Darrow is a variety that produces huge fruit--sometimes larger than a quarter--late in a season. The light-blue berries are also flavorful. Darrow grows to 6 feet tall and has red and orange fall foliage. This variety grows best in USDA zones 5 through 7.
Southern Highbush Varieties
Southern highbush blueberries are those that grow best in more temperate areas. Many varieties can tolerate frost conditions, but not for prolonged periods. These types of blueberries are common throughout the southern half of the United States.
Misty is a hardy and attractive variety of southern highbush. This variety is one of the few southern highbushes hardy enough to grow in some northern areas, including the Pacific Northwest. The leaves are bluish-green, and the spring flowers are both pink and white. The fruit, which ripens in the summer, is bright blue. Misty grows best in USDA zones 5 through 8, can reach heights of 6 feet and features green and burgundy fall color.
Sunshine Blue is another hardy and versatile blueberry variety that can grow in zones 5 through 10. This variety is evergreen and small, reaching a maximum height of only 3 feet. The flowers are hot pink before fading to cream, and the plant produces a large amount of berries. The fall colors are green, blue and burgundy.
Rabbiteye blueberries are known for their resistance to insects, according to George Ray McEachern, a horticulturist with Texas A&M University. These blueberry plants are quite large--reaching up to 15 feet tall--but are not as attractive in the landscape as northern and southern highbush plants. They often develop suckers and can be difficult to control.
Tifblue is the best rabbiteye variety, according to McEachern. This blueberry produces large, light-blue berries late in the summer. The plant itself is very hardy and will produce prolific amounts of fruit with very basic culture. Tifblue grows to 15 feet tall and thrives in USDA growing zones 8 through 10.
Woodard is another large rabbiteye, but this variety ripens early in the summer. Although it is not has vigorous as Tifblue, Woodard produces even higher-quality berries. Woodard grows to 8 feet tall and spreads very rapidly, which makes it a popular choice for a hedge plant. This variety grows well in USDA zones 8 through 10.