Pink Lemonade Blueberry (vaccinium corymbosum)

(Question)

We received the above plant as a gift in a 2 gallon pot, which was purchased from Home Depot. When we read the planting instructions, it said in order for the plant to bear fruit we need another plant to cross pollinate, so we have bought another plant. We have since learnt that the plant may not be suitable for our Toronto/Markham climate in winter, although the instructions say suitable for zones 3 -7. We have the perfect spot with full sun, so that is not a problem.
My question is: from your experience, would this plant survive our winters? if not, what measures should we take during the winter months? Protect it with a burlap wrap, or dig up and bring inside? Although reading further information says it is very sensitive to being moved. So we have a bit of a dilemma and as we are not able to return the plant being as it was a gift, we are looking to you for advice.
Thank you for your attention to my inquiry.

(Answer)

Dear gardener, thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your dilemma.

With climate changes, producers and gardeners are pushing the limits of hardiness zones and creating new varieties. This process can be exciting but also it becomes a bit of an experimentation at home.

Pink Lemonade’ is a relatively new introduction to the market (2011). It was developed by the US department of agriculture (USDA-ARS) by hibridizing Vaccinium ashei (USDA 7-10) and Vaccinium corymbosum (USDA 3-8) which allows ‘Pink Lemonade’ to produce farther south than many traditional blueberries while also having a unique colour.

Optimal growing conditions are key for survival. Make sure you provide a moist but well drained soil and acidic environment. You already placed it in a sunny location which is good (although it can also tolerate part-sun). Make sure you water it well this summer as it gets established.

According to the Natural Resources Canada website, Markham is located in zone 6a which is within the range of this new introduction. Home depot US states that this variety performs best in USDA plant growing zones 4 to 7 and that, when grown in other zones, special care will be necessary. While US hardiness zones are based on minimum and maximum temperatures only, Canadian hardiness zones also take into consideration climatic variables such as elevation, length of the frost-free period, summer rainfall, snow cover, January rainfall and maximum wind speed and thus the scale differs slightly.

In terms of fruiting, ‘Pink Lemonade’ is a self pollinating variety, but you will get a bigger crop if another variety is planted nearby. V. c. ‘Patriot’ which it’s not the same variety is a reliable plant but I am not sure how it will affect the pink colour of your current plants overtime.

In terms of protection, Blueberries, being native to northern climate, require a certain number of cold days dormancy and therefore bringing them inside may not be the best approach. However, while V. a. usually requires 150-200 chill hours, our native wild blueberries, by contrast, require between 800-1200 chill hrs therefore, given that this variety is a hybrid, I would advice protecting the base of the shrubs with pine needles and at least for the first year, create a burlap ‘cage’ around your plant to protect it from the strong winter winds.

I wish you the best of luck and please let us know next year how your shrubs did.