Think you live in a spot too warm for blueberries? Think again! The Winter Bell blueberry is known for its remarkable ability to grow in warmer climates. With a high yield and excellent disease tolerance, these berries are very grower-friendly. Read on to find out what makes the Winter Bell so unique.
While there are many types of this tasty little fruit, the Winter Bell blueberry is a great option to make sure that you have blueberries for many months to come! The uses for blueberries are as diverse as the types of blueberry bushes — muffins, jelly, cakes, smoothies, tarts, even syrup for pancakes!.
History of the Winter Bell Blueberry Bush
Winter Bell blueberries are a semi “new kid on the block” — they are a southern highbush blueberry that was patented in 2009 after years of breeding and development. The botanist responsible for the Winter Bell blueberry, David Weber, had a simple vision: To grow blueberries in Florida.
He began to consider how to grow them in Florida at the suggestion of one of his friends. In 1988, he started growing Sharpeblue blueberries in Winter Haven, Florida. This was unheard of at the time as blueberries were thought of as a fruit needing higher chill hours than what Florida has typically.
After research and consulting others in the field of blueberry breeding, Weber realized the key would be finding a blueberry with low chill hours. Or, in his case, breeding one. He continued to crossbreed new varieties until he finally produced the Winter Bell blueberry. Today, it’s the prominent blueberry he offers in his nursery.
Winter Bell Blueberry Characteristics
Winter Bell blueberries are best suited for low chill environments or zones with less than 500 chill hours. While some blueberries do best in cold climates, these were bred specifically for Florida or comparable areas that may not get a lot of chill hours.
Winter Bell blueberries ripen early in the season, allowing you to harvest early and enjoy your blueberries all season long! Winter Bells are ready before Jewel and Emerald varieties, allowing growers to cash in on early season prices.
These blueberries are slightly tart in comparison to some other blueberries. They are also firm. This makes them great for snacking right off the bush.
Winter Bell blueberries are a medium to large berry. They are also known for their high yield, which means more berries with less time needed for an impressive harvest.
Winter Bell blueberries yield approximately eleven pounds of fruit per plant. This is the equivalent of 23,091 pounds produced per acre, with about 2,074 Winter Bell blueberry plants on each acre. To see the 2017 research study of this prolific producer, visit this link.
With the research and diligent work of many botanists, it’s been found blueberries can be hardy in many different zones. The primary USDA zones for blueberries are 3-7, which covers the majority of the continental United States.
The Winter Bell blueberry is unique, as it is one of the very few varieties of blueberries that can be grown in Florida. Winter Bell blueberries are best suited for USDA zones 7-10. These should not be planted in zones under 7, as the temperature is much too harsh (at least without a greenhouse or other human intervention).
Space and Sizing
The Winter Bell blueberry grows to be reasonably large, around 5 ft tall. If you plan to create a blueberry “hedgerow,” the shrubs should have at least 2-2.5 feet between them. Otherwise, plant your blueberries 6 feet apart.
Like many blueberries, the Winter Bell blueberry self-pollinates and does not need another plant to produce fruit. However, your blueberry yield will be larger if there are nearby blueberries that you Winter Bell can cross-pollinate with.
Blueberries grow best in direct sunlight. However, if growing in the south, it may be a good idea to consider giving them some partial shade in the afternoon.
Without shade, you may need to water your blueberries more often to make sure they get the moisture they need.
Blueberries are thirsty plants and need to be watered regularly. Their soil should be kept moist for best results. You should also plant blueberries in acidic soil with a pH of around 4.5-4.8. Mulch can help to preserve moisture around your plants.
After the harvest season is over, you’ll want to remove crossed branches and any branches that didn’t produce fruit, but don’t cut back the entire bush. Proper, selective pruning will help your blueberries continue to produce and grow at their very best.
For more information on how to prune your Winter Bell blueberries, be sure to check out our guide, How to Prune Blueberries.
Diseases and Care,
Good news! Winter bell blueberries are known for their excellent disease tolerance. While all blueberries are prone to diseases, Winter Bells tend to experience less problems in this area than other blueberry varieties. If your plants do start to show some signs that indicate an infection of some sort, consult our guide to blueberry bush diseases and how to treat them.
For complete details on how to grow healthy blueberries, take a peek at our guide, How To Grow Blueberries.
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 Blueberries
You don’t need me to tell you blueberries are delicious! These blueberries are not that different in taste from the ones we all know and love. They are just a little on the tart side. Winter Bell blueberries are mostly eaten fresh. They’re incredibly flavorful when picked fresh off the bush.
Blueberries are well-known for being used for making baked goods and scrumptious condiments like jams, preserves, and syrups. But did you know that blueberries can also be paired with meat such as fish or pork? Click this link to visit a recipe for salmon and blueberry sauce.
This variety of blueberries are also a great candidate for canning, thanks to their tangy flavor.
Health Benefits of Blueberries
More great news: in addition to being delicious, blueberries also have lots of health benefits. These little guys are high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
They also contain proanthocyanidins. This is the same chemical that gives cranberries their urinary tract fighting abilities.
Some recent studies have been looking at blueberries and how they can help prevent DNA damage that causes cancer. For more information, visit our blog article on the health benefits of blueberries.
They’re also great for those looking for a low-calorie, fat-free snack and they even add fiber to your diet.
Can I Grow the Winter Bell Blueberry At Home?
At this time it appears that only licensed commercial growers are able to purchase and grow Winter Bell blueberries. However, things do change with fruit licensing, so check back from time to time to see if this variety starts being sold through retailers.
Wrapping Up the Winter Bell Blueberry
What makes the Winter Bell blueberry stand out from other blueberry varieties is its ability to grow and flourish in warmer climates. Its disease tolerance and high yield make it an excellent option for home growers looking for high-producing plants. The Winter Bell is good news for gardeners in warmer parts of the country who thought blueberries weren’t an option for their gardens.
Have you grown a Winter Bell blueberry in your garden? Or have you used Winter Bell blueberries in your recipes? If so, we’d love for you to share your experience with this blueberry in the comment section below! (For information about other blueberry varieties and blueberries, in general, visit this link for our blueberry-related blog articles.)