Two issues facing the Florida Blueberry Industry are the high cost and availability of labor for hand-harvesting the fruit and the high cost/low sustainability of pine bark mulch in the production systems. Both of these issues reduce grower profits. One approach to address these issues is the use of grafted blueberry plants. The sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum, is a wild relative of the cultivated blueberry and is adapted to soils with low organic matter and higher pH than cultivated blueberries can tolerate. Furthermore, sparkleberry grows as a single-trunked tree, not the mult-caned structure of the typical blueberry. Using sparkleberry as a rootstock for southern highbush blueberry may decrease requirements for pine bark mulch application and increase efficiency of machine harvest, since the harvesting catch plates can fit more snugly around a single trunk than they can around multi-canes.
Our goal is to determine the feasibility of using grafted blueberry plants to increase harvest efficiency and decrease the use of pine bark mulch. Our team is comprised of Dr. Jeff Williamson, blueberry extension specialist; Dr. Jim Olmstead, blueberry breeder; and Dr. Rebecca Darnell, blueberry physiologist.