The Liberty Blueberry is a northern highbush that’s performed well in cold climates such as Western Washington and Oregon. These late-season berries are known for their odd, slightly-flat shape and well-balanced flavor. Let’s learn a bit more about the Liberty blueberry.
History of the Liberty Blueberry
The Liberty Blueberry was developed in Michigan State University’s breeding program and granted a U.S patent in 2004. In 1991 emasculated flowers from the highbush blueberry plant “Brigetta” were pollinated with pollen from the “Elliott” northern highbush blueberry plant. The seeds were then germinated and grown inside a greenhouse for a year before being field planted. In 1997, Liberty was selected out of a group of 54 siblings. The original selection was evaluated at Benton Harbor, Michigan, annually for the next 11 years.
Liberty Blueberry / Fruit Characteristics
Here are some unique characteristics of the Liberty Blueberry.
- Late ripening
- High Chill
- Flavorful and firm
- Begins bearing fruit early (as early as the first year!)
- Easy to harvest
- Beautiful fall foliage
- White bell-shaped blossoms
- Northern highbush
- Vigorous upright to semi-spreading growth habit
- Well-exposed fruit
- Medium to large-sized fruit
- Slightly flat
- Harvest 7-10 days before Elliot
The Liberty Blueberry needs at least 1.000+ chill hours. Hot harvest temperatures can make berries softer.
Liberty ripens in the late-season sometime in late August.
The berries have light sky blue flesh, with small picking scars, sappy, firm texture, and a very balanced flavor.
The Liberty produces medium to large-sized berries.
They are grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7. Higher temperatures can cause your fruits to soften.
Size and Spacing
A mature Liberty bush can grow as high as 6-8 feet and spread 4-6 feet. You should space your plants between 4-6 feet apart. Measure from the center of one plant to the next to get the most accurate spacing.
The Liberty Blueberry is self-pollinating. However, like all highbush varieties, this plant thrives when paired with one or more other types of highbush blueberry bushes. Some good cross-pollinating plants include Hardyblue, Patriot, Meadowlark, Springhigh, and Legacy.
Liberty Blueberry Bush Care
With blueberries, your soil’s pH levels, the amount of direct sunlight your plant receives, the type of fertilizer you use, watering, and pruning are all essential factors in helping your bush produce the highest yield of high-quality fruit. And while blueberry bushes, in many cases, are highly resistant to diseases, there are a few you have to be mindful of and take preventive measures to avoid.
Blueberries enjoy loamy, well-drained soil. We can’t emphasize how important it is to have loose soil and doesn’t retain a lot of water. Standing water isn’t good for your roots and can lead to diseases like “root rot” and impact the production and flavor of your fruits.
Ideal soil pH levels for blueberries are between 4.5 and 5.0. However, you can still grow a good crop up to 5.5. To determine your soil’s pH levels, you’ll need to conduct a soil test. You can buy soil testing kits online or at any plant retailer in your area.
Mulch is another vital tool. Organic materials such as dead leaves, peat moss, pine bark, pine straw, grass clippings make for good mulch. Mulch benefits your soil by helping control weeds, improve acidity, moderate soil temperatures while conserving soil moisture.
To mulch your bushes, add a ring of mulch about 4-6 inches deep around the crown of your bush, leaving about 2 inches of space between the mulch and your plant.
Blueberries require fertilizer that has a balance of Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium (NPK). The exact balance that best suits your plant’s needs depends on your soil test results. However, for those who just want to use a general fertilizer blend, many go with 10-10-10. For more information on how best to fertilize blueberries, you can read this helpful guide.
Blueberry bushes generally require lots of direct sunlight, between 6-8 hours per day. Some varieties may require as little as four or as much as 10. However, you can never really have too much direct sunlight unless your bush is cold, hardy, and sensitive to high temperatures. In that case, partial shade might be needed during the summer months with higher temperatures.
Watering is very important and can help you establish and maintain your Liberty Blueberry bush to ensure optimal production. You want to water at least twice a week for the first year. And when you water, water deeply but not to the point of having standing water. Blueberry bushes only need about an inch or two of water per week. By watering every three days or so, you’ll promote faster root growth as the blueberry bush’s roots will reach out more for moisture beyond just being their reach once they’ve absorbed nearby moisture. This handy blueberry watering video can give you more insight.
As a general rule, it’s best to prune blueberry bushes at least once a year during the winter months when there are more dead branches and foliage to trim. You want to take care not to prune off productive branches while cutting those not producing fruit. This way, your bush will send its resources to your producers, not your non-fruit-bearing leafy branches. Of course, if you mainly wish to have a bush for decorative purposes, then you don’t need to worry too much about this step beyond the normal aesthetic trimming.
For more information about pruning blueberries, check out our blueberry pruning guide.
Diseases & Care
Highbush blueberry plants like Liberty are vulnerable to certain diseases such as Mummy Berry, Phytophthora Rot Root, and Anthracnose, to name a few. You can learn much more about common blueberry bush diseases and how to prevent them in this helpful Guide to Blueberry Diseases.
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
When to Harvest Liberty Blueberries?
When it comes to knowing when to harvest your blueberries, the obvious answer is to wait until they turn blue. However, that’s not always the best indicator. You need to know, for example, how big your fully ripened blueberries can grow. With Liberty blueberries, they can grow from medium to large sizes, so if you have berries the size of a pea on your bush, it’s best to leave them be.
Another way of telling if your blueberries are ready to be picked is gently pulling one. A berry that’s ready to be picked will fall into your hand without tugging or pulling hard.
Color can be another indicator as some varieties, such as Rabbiteye, can turn a shade of red or pink before turning blue.
Knowing when to harvest can also depend on the taste you desire from your berry. Some varieties like the Elliot blueberry may have a more tart flavor when picked before they are ripe and a sweeter sugary flavor when fully ripened.
For everything you need to know about harvesting blueberries, consult our guide that will let you know how to tell the right time to pick blueberries.
Common Uses For the Liberty Blueberry
Liberty Blueberry bushes can make for fantastic landscaping plants with white blossoms in the spring and foliage that turn an orange-red color in the fall.
And, of course, the blueberries themselves are delicious in all sorts of recipes.
What Do Liberty Blueberries Taste Like?
Plump, juicy Liberty blueberries pack a sweet and balanced flavor.
You’re probably familiar with the types of baked goods you can make with blueberries, such as muffins, cakes, and pies. But you can also use blueberries in cooked recipes such as pasta and meat dishes. Blueberries are amazing with meats like beef, pork, fish, and poultry.
Liberty blueberries are tasty right off the bush and are a wonderful addition to any salad, yogurt, or smoothie recipe.
Blueberries are not good canning fruit. However, you can make many types of delicious jams and preserves with your liberty blueberries.
Freezing is the most reliable way to preserve your blueberries. You want to make sure you wash and rinse them before gently drying them. Then put them on a cookie tray, and wrap them with Saran wrap for cold storage. However, it’s important to ensure your blueberries are not crowded on top of each other since too much contact can cause them to lose their shape.
The best method to dry blueberries is a food dehydrator. However, you can also dry them out by placing them in the oven. Once they cool, just put them into a container or ziplock bag.
Recipes for Liberty Blueberries
Here are a few delicious recipes in which you can use your Liberty blueberries.
- Blueberry Balsamic Glazed Salmon
- Blueberry Balsamic Pork Tenderloin
- Blueberry-Dijon Chicken
- Easy Crumble Recipe
- Blueberry Coffee Cake
Health Benefits of the Liberty Blueberry
Liberty blueberries have several amazing health benefits and tons of amazing nutrients such as vitamin K and C, fiber, potassium, and manganese. They also have a host of powerful antioxidants. Here are just a few health benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Might help prevent heart disease
- Reduce inflammation and muscle damage after strenuous exercise
- Antioxidants may help fight cancer
Where To Buy Liberty Blueberry Bushes
Depending on what zone you live in, you may find Liberty Blueberry bushes for sale in your local nursery. However, your best bet might be ordering the bushes or plug plants online (for example, at Nature Hills Nursery). You can also check with your local nurseries for more information on finding these plants.
Where To Buy Liberty Blueberries
Blueberries are notoriously tough to source in grocery stores. However, if you have a farmers market, you might find them sold there if you live in the correct zone. Otherwise, you can contact a farmer’s market or farm in a state that grows Liberty blueberries to find out about having them shipped.
The Last Word On the Liberty Blueberry
The Liberty Blueberry is a great berry that’s big, juicy, and has a well-balanced sweet flavor. The plants can survive cold temperatures but don’t tolerate heat very well. You can enjoy a very bountiful late harvest after only a year, making them perfect for those who don’t want to wait two or three years to taste some fruit.
Are you a fan of the Liberty Blueberry or its fruit? Let us know in the comments section below! To read about other blueberry varieties, click here for our other blueberry blog posts.