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The Chickadee Blueberry

For growers in low-chill environments such as Florida, finding blueberries that perform well can be a bit of a challenge. However, the Chickadee Blueberry bush not only offers a good yield in low-chill climates, but it also has firmer and larger fruit than your typical blueberry plant.

Closeup of cluster of blueberries, similar to the fruit of the Chickadee Blueberry.

Plus, Chickadee ripens early, on par with Snowchaser, and does well in evergreen production systems. These berries have a semi-crisp to firm texture and are sweet with very low acidity. Below we go into more details about this remarkable berry and how the Chickadee Blueberry could be a perfect addition to your garden or orchard.

History of the Chickadee Blueberry

Chickadee (F-L04-235) was developed at the University of Florida in 2009 as an early-season southern highbush cultivator that can thrive in a non-hydrogen-cyanamide evergreen production system. Some unique features of the Chickadee include:

  • Vigorous growth
  • Low Chill
  • Large berries
  • Above standard firmness
  • Sweet with low acidity
  • Very Early Harvest

Chickadee Blueberry / Fruit Characteristics

Here are a few important characteristics of the Chickadee blueberry.

  • Brix: 8.9-12.3 with an average of 10.5, on par with Endura but lower than Emerald.
  • Brix/Acid Ratio: 14.9-75.8, with an average of 30.7, higher than Emerald.
  • Wax/bloom: Medium, on par with Emerald

Chilling Level

The Chickadee blueberry requires 100 chill hours.

Ripening Season

The Chickadee blueberry ripens exceptionally early. According to trials in Windsor, Florida, about 50 percent of berries are usually ready for harvest by April 15, with flowers that bloom by January 28.

You can also access our handy guide detailing the right time to pick blueberries on the Minneopa Orchards.

Fruit Qualities

The Chickadee blueberries have a medium blue color. They are large berries with a sweet flavor with an average score of 23.9 between Emerald (19.9) and Kestral (29.0). This fruit has a typical scar, similar to Emerald.

Clusters of blueberries on a branch.

Berry Size

  • Berry Diameter: 15.0-18.4 millimeters, with an average of 16.7 mm, on par with Avanti but smaller than Emerald.
  • Berry weight: 1.8-2.6 grams with an average of 2.1 grams, on par with Kestrel and Avanti.

Size and Spacing

You can plant blueberries as close as two to two-and-a-half feet apart if you want to form solid hedgerows or space them up to six feet apart if you’re growing them individually. If you’re growing in rows, allow eight to ten feet between your rows depending on your equipment for cultivating or mowing.

Planting Zones

Since the Chickadee blueberry was developed for Florida climates, the growing zones are 8-10, with the ideal zones being 9-10.

You can also find more information on the USDA Hardiness Zones website.

And for more information on how to grow Chickadee Blueberries, check out our reference guide: “How to Grow Blueberries.”

Person spreading mulch around a newly planted blueberry shrub.

Pollination

To reach their peak yield potential, it’s strongly recommended growers cross-pollinate Chickadee bushes with other early ripening varieties such as Kessel or Arcadia.

Blueberry Bush Care

The Chickadee blueberry is an upright bush with stout twigs and stems, and it has a narrow, nearly monopodial base. These plants have a history of uprooting due to heavy ice loads. Due to its early bloom, overhead freeze protection is a must in zone 8 areas like the Florida panhandle and further north.

Meanwhile, berry quality on the bush is maintained longer than most other cultivators in Florida.

Blueberry foliage color in the fall.

Fertilizer

All blueberry bushes need a fertilizer high in nitrogen with an ammonium form, such as sulfur-coated urea, urea, ammonium sulfate, or cottonseed meal. However, it’s best to avoid using fertilizers with a nitrate form of nitrogen, since nitrates are toxic to blueberry bushes.

Ideally, you want to fertilize once in early spring, then once again in late spring. Organic fertilizers such as cottonseed and blood meal are good alternatives.

Soil

Blueberry bushes need soil that’s rich and well-drained. They need soil with pH levels between 4.5 and 4.8. You also want to plant your blueberries in soil that’s rich in organic matter. If planting directly inground, you can always increase organic matter levels by mixing three inches of aged compost-enriched soil into the top six inches of native soil.

Peat moss and pine fines also work well for blueberries. We recommend using one bale of peat moss and four bags of pine fines for every ten blueberry bushes.

Sunlight

Your blueberry bushes will need lots of sunlight. Try to avoid planting in areas with overhanging trees as they can also compete for nutrients. Plus, trees attract birds, some of which love blueberries. And blueberries can contract certain diseases from trees that impact air circulation.

Ideally, blueberries should get full sun, but some varieties can tolerate partial shade. However, too much shade will cause plants to produce fewer flowers and less fruit. At a minimum, you should expose blueberry bushes to at least eight to ten hours of direct unfiltered sunlight per day.

Watering

Most blueberry bushes have very shallow roots that develop slower than other plants. Due to this factor, you should constantly water your bushes deeply to ensure optimum growth and output.

Also, if you are using a drip irrigation system, you’ll need to make sure it’s providing even moisture to your soil.

Person watering a blueberry shrub.

Pruning

Now, with Chickadee, the canopy on these bushes tends to be sparser than some other varieties, which means mature plants don’t respond well to hard pruning.

You can also find an excellent guide for pruning called “How to Prune Blueberries” on our website.

Diseases & Care

Chickadees are susceptible to algal stem blotch.

To learn more about diseases that affect blueberry bushes, see our website guide.

Pests

It’s not just people who love blueberries and, chances are, you’ll end up dealing with a pest or two. For information about how to identify, eliminate, and deter pests, read our blog post on the 9 common pests you’ll encounter with blueberries

Common Uses For the Blueberry

Closeup of spilled blueberries.

Blueberry bushes don’t just produce delicious berries. They could make a gorgeous addition to your landscaping scheme.

And of course, they are lovely in many dishes, such as blueberry scones, breads, pies, cakes, and muffins.

What Do Chickadee Blueberries Taste Like?

Chickadee blueberries have a sweet taste with just the right balance of tartness.

Cooking

When it comes to cooking, blueberries pair very well with beef. You can prepare a wide variety of steak recipes using blueberries, such as Filet Mignon in Blueberry-Bourbon Barbecue sauce, Flank Steak with Blueberry Sauce, and Beef, Blueberry & Flax Burgers.

Blueberries also taste fantastic with duck, salmon, chicken, and pork dishes.

And, of course, you always have your desserts, like pies, cakes, and ice cream.

Blueberry scones.

Eating Raw

Chickadee blueberries are delicious raw, even fresh off the vine. They are large, plump, and juicy berries with a wonderful balance of tartness and sweetness.

These berries are great in salads, yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies.

Canning Blueberries

Canning is not the recommended method of preserving blueberries. However, if you’re interested in making jams and preserves, there are many wonderful recipes online using fresh blueberries.

Freezing Blueberries

Freezing is by far the best method to preserve your blueberries.

To begin, first, wash and rinse your blueberries well.

Then, lay them all out on a cookie sheet lined with a few layers of paper towels.

With more paper towels, you’ll need to blot them as dry as possible. You don’t want any additional moisture on the surface of your berries during the freezing process.

Once you’re ready to freeze your berries, arrange them on a cookie sheet. You’ll want to ensure each berry has a bit of space, or else you’ll end up with a big berry clump, and your berries will lose their shape.

Open freezer bag of frozen blueberries.

Drying Blueberries

Ideally, you want to use a food dehydrator to dry your blueberries. However, you can achieve the same results using an oven.

You’ll need to place your berries on a parchment-lined cookie sheet before baking them for at least three hours at a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make sure your berries are thoroughly cooked before transferring them to either ziplock bags or airtight containers.

Recipes for Blueberries

You can find lots of incredible blueberry recipes on the Minneopa Orchards Website. Here are just a few:

Health Benefits of the Blueberry

Blueberries are not just nutritious. They are considered one of the best superfoods, right up there with kale!

Blueberries are packed with fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, Manganese, and many antioxidants.

Two glasses of blueberry smoothie.
Two glasses of blueberry smoothie on blue colored wooden table

Here are a few health benefits and conditions blueberries are known to help.

  • Weight control
  • Cognitive disabilities and dementia
  • Stroke recovery
  • Colon cancer
  • High blood pressure

You can learn more about blueberries’ nutritional benefits in our comprehensive guide on the Minneopa Orchards website.

Where To Buy Chickadee Blueberry Bushes

If you’re looking to purchase Chickadee blueberry bushes, they don’t appear to be widely available to the home grower market yet. If you happen to live in the zones the Chickadee is rated for, your best bet might be your local nursery or to check online for Florida nurseries that sell them.

Where To Buy Chickadee Blueberries

As for finding the Chickadee blueberries, you could try your local specialty health food store or a chain such as Whole Foods. They are mainly grown commercially in Florida.

Final Thoughts on the Chickadee Blueberry

Clusters of blueberries on shrub.

The Chickadee Blueberry is an excellent low-chill variety, ideal for folks living in central and southern Florida or in similar climates that don’t encounter many deep-freeze conditions. These flavorful berries grow very large but do need help from similar cultivators to reach their best yields. Overall, this is a perfect berry for southern growers.

Have you grown Chickadee Blueberries or do you have a favorite place to buy them you’d like to share? Leave a comment below! If you’re a real fan of blueberries, click this link for our other blueberry-related blog posts.