The O’Neal Blueberry is a southern highbush known for early yields and large, juicy, flavorful berries. In fact, it ripens earlier than most other southern highbush varieties while producing vast quantities of high-quality fruit. Let’s take a closer look at the O’Neal Blueberry and see why it’s so popular among growers.
History of the O’Neal Blueberry
North Carolina State University first released the O’Neal blueberry in 1987.
O’Neal Blueberry / Fruit Characteristics
This southern highbush variety has a moderately vigorous, rounded, semi-upright, spreading growth habit. The plant also features limber branches capable of holding lots of berries! The summer foliage has an attractive green-gray color accented with red branches and stems.
The O’Neal Blueberry needs between 500-600 chill hours and can tolerate light frost.
The ripening season for an O’Neal Blueberry is very early, which means they first ripen between mid-May to mid-June. They typically take between 2-3 years from seed to bear fruit.
O’Neal blueberries have a dark blue color and a very sweet “berry” taste, perhaps one of the best-tasting southern highbush blueberries on the market.
The berries are large in size. The longer you wait before harvest. The sweeter and larger your yield will be.
The O’Neal Blueberry can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 5-9.
Size and Spacing
O’Neal Blueberry plants can grow between 4-6 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide. Spacing between plants should be 4-6 feet apart, ensuring plenty of room for growth.
The O’Neal is a self-pollinating blueberry. However, it bears better yields when partnered with other southern highbush varieties like Ventura, Star, and Camellia.
O’Neal Blueberry Bush Care
The O’Neal Blueberry isn’t a fussy plant. You just need to follow the basic rules when caring for blueberry plants. Soil pH is very important, which is why it’s a good idea to take a soil test before transplanting your bush or plug plant. Plus, using the right type of fertilizer and mulch will help yield outstanding results along with providing adequate water and direct sunlight. Pruning is also important to help maximize your yields.
You can learn a lot more in our comprehensive guide to growing blueberries.
Soil is one of the most important factors that can determine whether or not your O’Neal Blueberry bush will yield fruit. Blueberries require your soil’s pH to be between a very specific range, 4.5-5.5. Since blueberry plants have shallow, fibrous roots, the soil needs to be loose and well-drained. Loamy soil is best, and clay soil is the worst.
If you do have clay soil, you can reform it by tilling it with sand and adding some natural organic matter like peat moss.
As mentioned above, a soil test is an excellent way to learn your soil’s pH levels and what nutrients are already present or lacking within your soil. You can learn more about soil testing here.
It’s best to fertilize during early spring using granular or liquid acid fertilizer. The exact N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) mixture will mostly depend on your soil test results. However, many choose to go with a 10-10-10 mix as a general fertilizer. However, you can get the best results by calculating your mixture based on your soil sample.
Blueberries respond well to fertilizers with lots of nitrogen. The best nitrogen forms are ammonium sulfate, urea, cottonseed meal, and sulfur-coated urea.
However, avoid nitrate fertilizers because this form of nitrogen is toxic to blueberries.
You’ll want to fertilizer your bushes twice a year — once in early spring and again in late spring.
O’Neal Blueberries need between 6-10 hours of direct sunlight.
You want to ensure your soil is always moist but not soggy. You don’t want your soil to dry out between waterings. However, it’s a good idea to water deeply twice a week during the first year, spacing out waterings every 2-3 days or so. By doing this, you provide your bush with the moisture it needs while encouraging your roots to grow faster. You see, once the roots drink up the water closest to them, they will reach out to access the water just beyond their range.
Some people also use a drip irrigation system to ensure their bushes receive just the right amount of water.
A southern highbush blueberry will stay evergreen so long as it’s a mild winter. So it’s best to prune them after they are finished producing fruit. It’s best to prune this bush during the winter months to early spring while they are still dormant. You should see flower buds in one-year-old plants, and you can prune those back to help regulate your upcoming crop load. For more on pruning southern highbush blueberries, you can check out this guide to pruning southern highbush blueberries for more insight.
Diseases & Pests
Thankfully, many blueberries varieties such as southern highbush are resistant to a lot of common diseases and pests. However, that doesn’t mean they are immune. You can learn more about blueberry bush diseases and how to combat them in this handy guide.
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 O’Neal Blueberries?
An O’Neal Blueberry can yield between 15-20lbs of fruit during harvest season, which is June-July. The most obvious way you can tell a blueberry is ripe is by its color. However, that’s not always the best indicator.
It’s also important to feel your blueberries. Ripe blueberries should feel firm to the touch. If they feel hard, that could indicate they are still not fully ripe — if they feel soft, they are overripe because they were left on the shrub for too long. You can also test by gently pulling on a few. Fully ripened berries should come right off the bush with no hard pulling or tugging.
To pinpoint just when and which fruit to pick from your blueberry bush, read our guide on picking blueberries.
Common Uses For the O’Neal Blueberry
O’Neal blueberries are fantastic in pastries and cooked meals, but the plants can also serve landscaping purposes. They have beautiful white bell-shaped blossoms in the spring and their leaves turn an orange-red color in the fall. You can also use dried blueberries to make things like scented candles.
What Do O’Neal Blueberries Taste Like?
These blueberries are firm, plump, and juicy with a very sweet “berry” flavor.
Blueberries are amazing in pastries such as tarts, pies, cakes, and bread, but they can also be used in meals featuring meats like pork, beef, fish, and poultry.
These large, flavorful berries are perfect for yogurts, smoothies, parfaits, oatmeal, and salads. You can also munch on a few of these to satisfy your sweet tooth instead of reaching for a candy bar.
We can’t recommend canning blueberries unless you plan on making preserves or jam.
Freezing is the best way to preserve your whole blueberries. The main thing is to ensure that your blueberries do not crowd each other during the initial freeze. Putting just a few on a sheet pan with a little space between your berries will make sure that you don’t end up with a big blueberry clump. After your first freeze, which takes 3-4 hours, then you can transfer them to a ziplock bag or container for longer-term freezing.
If you’re interested in drying your blueberries, using a food dehydrator is the best way to go. Short of that option, you can also dry them in the oven. You would place your blueberries on a cookie sheet and bake them at 135 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 hours. You can also bake them at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for about seven hours, but you’ll need to keep a close eye on them, so you don’t accidentally burn your blueberries. Once they are done, just allow them to cool before transferring them to long-term storage.
Recipes for O’Neal Blueberries
Here are just a few tasty recipes in which you can use your O’Neal blueberries.
- Lemon-Blueberry Biscuits
- Blueberry French Toast
- Blueberry Balsamic Glazed Salmon
- Red, White, and Blueberry Grilled Chicken
- Balsamic-Blueberry Pulled Pork
- Roast Pork with Blueberry Port Sauce
Health Benefits of the O’Neal Blueberry
Blueberries are one of the most delicious super-foods around loaded with powerful antioxidants and nutrients such as fiber, potassium, Vitamin C and K, and folate.
- Some of their health benefits include
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving cholesterol levels
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improve sensitivity to insulin for diabetics
- Boost brain functions
- Promote good gut health via probiotics
Where To Buy O’Neal Blueberry Bushes
You can buy O’Neal Blueberry bushes and plug plants at your local nursery if you live in the right zone. Or you can order the bushes and plug plants online (at Nature Hills Nursery, for instance).
Where To Buy O’Neal Blueberries
Blueberries are hard to source at local supermarkets, so it’s best to find a Farmer’s Market or farm that grows specific varieties. You can also contact out-of-state farmers markets and blueberry farms to see if they can ship products to your door.
The Last Word On the O’Neal Blueberry
The big, juicy O’Neal Blueberry delivers lots of flavors and huge yields year after year. It’s an earlier ripening fruit which means you can enjoy a fresh blueberry harvest sooner than some of your other plants.
Excited for more blueberry content? Then check out our blueberry page to learn all about how to grow, care for, and harvest this delicious fruit!