I want to order 20 blueberry bushes [three-years old] and eat them this summer.What varieties are the very best for our zone? I am not in Raleigh ( zone 8) but closer to zone 7.I suppose it is seven and a half!
I am not a blueberry expert so others may offer better advice.
I always plant a mixture of types so that at least one variety does well each summer. Some do better during wet years while others do better when its super hot and dry. You can't control the weather so its best to plan for anything. I like the flavor of O'Neal, which handles high heat better than most but it also tends to bloom way too early which can damage the crop. This year about half of its flower buds have already opened and been damaged by freezing weather.
If you order them from a catalog or website you will get the best sized plants for establishing a bed or row in the garden but it won't be the best sized plants for fruit the first year. You might get fruit the first year but I doubt it will be a full crop. Alternately you can buy larger container grown bushes at any garden center right about now. You can see the this years flowers on them so you'll know how big the crop will be.
I have noticed that the prices tend to be the same whether you're buying them from a big box store or a garden center, so don't think you'll save a lot of money by buying from Home Depot.
I have also noticed that many of the plants offered are actually grown somewhere in this state (we have some large blueberry farms) so they are not shipping them in from out of state.
You really have to work your soil and be prepared to water them in order to succeed in this climate. I have wild blueberries nearby and still I struggle to keep my garden plants happy. They like a lot more water than I thought.
More than 20 years ago I bought what was suggested by Finch's, two each of three different kinds. They ripen at different times, so we have blueberries most of the summer. Only one of the shrubs shows signs of "aging," and we do nothing special for them.
They are out in an old field, which we keep cut, in full sun, and we give them no extra water. Once a year we may put some coffee grounds around them to keep the acidic soil.
One year they were in bloom when we had a killing frost. Yield that year was low. Otherwise, the six shrubs bear enough to share with neighbors as well as feed us. I don't freeze many as they get tough after a short while in the freezer.
Oh, they shipped the plants to us, but I have since gone to the site and bought more plants for friends since we had such succfess with ours. I do recommend my NC source.
Here is a link that might be useful: NC Blueberry Grower
Definitely read the linked info and realize that there are early, mid and late season blueberries. Having some of each extends the season but you must have more than one within those groups.
So if you want early and mid-season, you should get at least two of each and they should be at least two different ones. If you are in a cold area, I'd recommend not getting "early" ones as there can be a higher chance of freeze damage to the flowers.