SFA Gardens and the USDA released ‘Earlibirdblue’ in 2011. It’s a southern highbush blueberry recommended for use in homeowner plantings. This variety, tested as MS 108, resulted from a cross of G144 X US 75 made at Beltsville, Maryland, and selected by Arlan Draper and James Spiers in 1979 at Poplarville, Mississippi. G144 resulted from a cross of 11-93 (Jersey X Pioneer) X Darrow and US 75 originated from a cross of Florida 4B (native V. darrowii clone) X Bluecrop. The original seedling of Earlibirdbllue was propagated and established in field trials in AL, MS, and TX in the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s to evaluate performance. Earlibirdblue was evaluated in test plots at Mill Creek Blueberry farm near Nacogdoches, Texas for over twenty years.
Earlibirdblue was released in 2011 (HortScience May 2012 vol. 47 no. 5 536-562) and the description was as follows: A garden and landscape southern highbush blueberry suited to Texas conditions. Origin: USDA-ARS, Poplarville, MS, USDA-ARS Beltsville, MD, and Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX by S. Stringer, A. Draper, J. Spiers, and D. Creech. G 144 x US 75; crossed 1977; selected 1979; tested as MS 108; introd. 2011. Fruit: medium; good color and flavor when allowed to hang for several days after turning blue; skin may tear at the base of the pedicel, making this cultivar unsuitable for shipping. Plant: moderately vigorous with a relatively short stature, 1.5–2 m; spreading growth habit; attractive, dense, green foliage; consistent productivity; easy to prune and easily integrated into the home landscape; ripens 4–8 weeks earlier than many rabbiteye blueberry cultivars; flowers develop and bloom sufficiently late to avoid most frost damage; chilling requirement ∼500 h; propagation from softwood or hardwood cuttings.
Plants of ‘Earlibirdblue’ are moderately vigorous with a relatively short stature (4-5 ft.), have a spreading growth habit, attractive dense green foliage and are consistently productive. The relatively low plant height produces a shrub that is easy to prune and is easily integrated into home landscapes. In the gulf coast region of the U.S. ‘Earlibirdblue’ ripens early with a fruit ripening period of early to mid May, which is four to eight weeks earlier than most rabbiteye blueberry varieties grown in the region. Although early ripening, ‘Earlibirdblue’ flowers develop and bloom sufficiently late to avoid most frost damage and associated yield reductions.
There are a couple of reasons this unique variety was released as a homeowner variety – and not a commercial variety. ‘Earlibirdblue’ really needs to hang a little longer on the bush than other varieties to fully sweeten up. Berries are tart if picked too early. In fact, prior to releasing this cultivar, there was some resistance to the release. In fact, I remember Arlan Draper suggesting we name it Texas Tart – which is not exactly the best name for a blueberry. Commercial growers are quick to harvest berries the moment they’re “blue”. ‘Earlibirdblue’ needs to hang on the bush a few extra days to truly sweeten. Plus, when picked there’s a slight tear problem at the base of the pedicel – and that could be a serious commercial issue but it’s not that important for the homeowner. The bottom line is that we now have a short stature, very early ripening blueberry variety that has produced well consistently for the past twenty years in our region.
One reason for Earlibirdblue’s consistent production is that it doesn’t bloom that early. In fact, here’s a long ago (03-29-2010) image of the plant at Mill Creek Farms which shows the shorter stature and the lateness of bloom which helps the variety avoid a late frost.
The exact chilling requirement of ‘Earlibirdblue’ is estimated to be approximately 500 to 550 hours less than 45F. Although ‘Earlibirdblue’ may be somewhat self-fertile, productivity of southern highbush blueberries are enhanced when bushes are interplanted among other southern highbush cultivars having a similar bloom period. When planted in rows, plants of ‘Earlibirdblue’ should be spaced 5-6 feet apart in well-drained soils of modest acidity, and plants benefit by a generous application of pine bark mulch, particularly in the early years of establishment.
‘Earlibirdblue’ is expected to be a valuable addition to blueberry cultivars grown for utilization as part of an edible landscape.We recommend that homeowners situate ‘Earliirdblue’ plants in full sun and provide for strong drainage for the root system. A good sandy loam with composted pine bark fines or peat moss mixed into the top 1′ of soil and then mulched a few inches deep in pine bark. If possible, plant in a raised bed. While daily drip irrigation during the dry season is recommended, timely sprinkler irrigation is equally beneficial.