One of the most important things you can do to ensure your blueberry bushes bear berries year after year is to prune them annually. When is the right time to do it and what should you look for when pruning your blueberries? Useful tips, as well as a few reasons why pruning is worthwhile when it comes to the popular berry bush, can be found in the article.
Table of Contents
- Why do you need to prune blueberry bushes?
- Pruning blueberries: when is the right time?
- Pruning blueberries: this is the right way to proceed
- How to cut blueberries in a pot
Why do you need to prune blueberry bushes?
If you’ve ever collected wild blueberries along the roadside or in the woods, you’re probably wondering why you need to prune the bushes in your yard. After all, they do just fine in the woods, so why not let nature take its course in your garden?
The blueberries we grow in our gardens were bred and cultivated specifically for this purpose. They need regular care to thrive. Not only that, they are meant to be cared for in a very specific way. Without proper care, just like in the wild, yields depend on a variety of uncontrolled variables.
Blueberries require two to three years of focused care to become established when they are newly planted. After that, you will need to maintain and prune the bushes annually to ensure their overall health and continued fruit production.
Some of the main reasons we prune blueberries are:
- To establish the overall health and shape of a new plant – for the first two years after planting a new blueberry bush, prune it to encourage new growth both above and below ground.
- Encourage new growth of fruit bearing canes – older canes bear less fruit, so we want to prune them to remove the older growth and encourage new growth as the shrub ages.
- Allow light and airflow to the center of the plant.
- Prevent the plant from growing in a way that results in lower fruit yield or disease.
Pruning blueberries: when is the right time?
The best time to prune your blueberry bushes is in the fall or winter, when the foliage has already completely fallen and the plant is dormant. A frost-free day in late fall or February is best so that the cut-back shoots do not freeze.
If the blueberry bush is attacked by pests or a fungal disease, then the affected parts of the plant must be cut off directly to prevent it from spreading.
How to cut blueberries: this is how to proceed correctly.
How you should cut your blueberries depends on the age of the plant. A distinction is made between educational pruning (1st to 3rd year of growth), maintenance pruning (from 4th year of growth) and rejuvenation pruning (older overgrown bushes).
Note: Pruning (education pruning) in the first three years after planting is not essential, but helps the plant to grow healthy and vigorous.
Educational pruning for young plants
Pruning schedule for young blueberry bushes: prune immediately after planting the bush and remove the fruit buds in the first three years.
The first time you cut after planting a new blueberry bush in the ground. Once it has recovered for a week, cut back all the thin shoots near the crown. Next, cut back the tall, young shoots by about 20 to 25 inches. This will help the plant prepare for future growth.
New plants need different pruning and care than older, established plants. If you want to give your plant the best chance of becoming a prolific fruit bearer, you should prevent new blueberry bushes from bearing fruit for the first two years.
This means that when you prune in the first few years, cut off the tips of the canes where fruit buds have formed.
You can tell the difference between fruit buds and leaf buds by their appearance and where they grow on the plant. Fruit buds grow at the tips of the shoots and are rounder than leaf buds. Leaf buds grow further down the cane and are more slender and pointed, growing closer to the cane.
If you remove fruit buds in the first two years, you will cause the plant to put its energy into developing deep roots and a strong crown rather than into fruiting. This strong plant development, in turn, means higher yields in subsequent years.
If you want to harvest blueberries for many years, be patient and put the work in for healthy, high-yielding plants in later years.
Maintenance pruning for established plants
Pruning schedule for older blueberry bushes: starting in the 4th year of establishment, remove small, weaker shoots at the crown and older branches to encourage new growth, and shorten large, new branches to just below the canopy.
It’s best to get an idea of the shape you’re aiming for before you start pruning. Walk around the shrub and notice if the branches are rubbing against each other, where more light should reach the center of the shrub, if the new growth is scrawny, and the overall size and shape of the plant.
One of the first things to do is to clean out the crown. Remove any thin, scrawny shoots that have sprouted on the crown. They are too small and will be crowded out by the thicker tree crown above them. If you leave the thicker shoots, you will harvest more berries in the long run.
When pruning younger shoots, remember that they grow quickly, and cut them 10 to 15 inches lower than the top of the shrub. This will also encourage lateral growth, resulting in more berries. They will fill out nicely in the coming season.
Shorten the top a bit if the inside of the plant needs more light and air.
When does the blueberry bush need rejuvenation pruning?
The older the bush gets, the less fruit the older canes bear. Once the plant is five to seven years old, you should begin rejuvenation pruning, always thinning out the oldest branches and encouraging the growth of new ones.
When thinning out the old canes, you should remove 20% of them each year. New growth is stronger on each variety and will yield more berries if pruned in this manner. The goal is to have a blueberry bush with a balanced mix of old and new canes to ensure a good crop.
How to cut blueberries in the pot
When growing blueberries in containers pruning is done in a similar way, except when they need to repot. If the blueberry bush is root-bearing, you will need to cut back the roots before repotting. In this case, you will need to cut the shrub back more because the smaller root system will not be able to hold the existing canes. If you are repotting and pruning the roots, you should cut the shrub back by about 50-60%.
With this simple measure, you can ensure that your plants will remain healthy for many years. And if you encourage the plants to grow new canes each year, your blueberry bushes will reward you with an abundance of tasty berries each summer.