When it comes to growing fruit, blueberries and grapes are two of the easiest to successfully grow in Eastern North Carolina. Both have few pest problems and the main annual chore would be pruning them in late winter. If you are interested in trying to grow some fruit at home, these would be two recommend for a beginner gardener (or one with limit time).
Late winter to early spring (February to March in Eastern NC) is the time to plan for planting blueberry and grape plants. However, if you have tried to shop around for what cultivars or types to plant the number of choices can quickly become overwhelming. There are some important points to consider when selecting blueberry and grape cultivars. One is that not all cultivars are not recommended or suited for Eastern North Carolina climate. Avoid falling for common pitfalls such as ordering blueberry or grape plants online or from catalogs before doing your research. Often these businesses are located in colder climates and are selling cultivars that grow best in these climates. There is nothing wrong ordering from online or catalog type businesses, however, check to see if the cultivar is suited for our warm climate. Also, don’t forget we have local garden centers and nurseries that sell cultivars recommended for our area.
Another point to consider is to not rely on one cultivar. Having more than one cultivar increases cross pollination and often will maximize your yield. Depending on yearly weather conditions, date of last spring frost and temperatures will cause cultivars to perform better (or worse) in one year verses another year. Planting more than one cultivar of blueberries and/or grapes will avoid you from “putting all your eggs in one basket” or depending one cultivar for your entire yearly harvest.
When it comes to blueberries recommended for Wayne County and Eastern North Carolina, the rabbiteye group is often recommended for home gardeners. Rabbiteye blueberries are harvested June through July. Rabbiteyes are recommended for home gardeners because they are tougher plants and more drought tolerant. Cultivars of rabbiteye blueberries recommended for our area include early season ones such as ‘Climax’ and ‘Premier’; early to mid season ones like ‘Tifblue’, ‘Ira’ and ‘Yadkin.’ ‘Powderblue’ is a mid to late season cultivar that performs well in our climate.
Muscadine grapes are the type of grapes that perform best in Eastern North Carolina. Bunch grapes, such as Concord grapes, are not recommended because they have a lot of disease problems that are encouraged by our hot, humid summers. Muscadine grapes are native to southern United States and perform well in our climate with little pest problems. Black grape cultivars recommended for our area include: ‘Thomas’, ‘Nesbitt’, ‘Noble’ and ‘Regale.’ Recommended bronze grape cultivars include: ‘Carlo’, ‘Doreen’, ‘Magnolia’, and ‘Triumph.’ All the varieties mentioned above have perfect flowers (male and female flower parts) so a single vine will be fruitful. Other varieties such as ‘Fry,’ ‘Higgins,’ Scuppernong,’ and ‘Jumbo’ have flowers with only female flower parts and must be planted near a perfect-flowered cultivar.
As you make plans for your gardens in 2022, consider planting a few blueberry and/or grapes. Give the plants a few years to grow and mature and you will soon be enjoying fresh fruit grown in your backyard.
Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.