Growing blueberries in a home garden is a wonderful experience. They give an ornamental appeal throughout the year and keep your fridge loaded with healthy, fresh blueberries through the summers. Pruning blueberries can help you make the most out of the bushes, giving you the best possible harvests each season and keeping your garden looking prim and proper all the time.
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So how do you prune blueberry bushes and when is the best time to do so. Continue reading and you’ll learn how to prune blueberry bushes the right way.
Why Should You Prune Blueberry Bushes?
Pruning is an important yearly task for blueberry growers for several reasons. Here’s why you should prune blueberry bushes:
- Old wood is less productive. Yearly pruning of old stems encourages the growth of new, more productive stems.
- Dead and damaged branches are non-productive and hinder the growth of others. Removing them encourages the overall health of the plant.
- Pruning removes excess foliage so the plant can concentrate its energies into producing fruit. Regularly pruned blueberry bushes produce better quality fruit.
- Regular pruning maintains air circulation between the branches and better access to sunlight, which in turn reduces the chances of diseases.
When Should You Prune Blueberry Bushes?
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Blueberry bushes are typically pruned between late winters to early spring each year when the plants are dormant. Gardeners aim at pruning the bushes after all the chances of a severe frost have passed but new growth has still not begun in spring. It usually occurs between January to early March for most climates.
However, you may even need to prune a bit during the growing season, as needed, to maintain plant vigor and health. If you find any branches growing too low to the ground, dead, diseased, or heavily infested, remove them promptly before they damage the rest of the plant.
How To Prune Blueberry Bushes
One of the most common questions that blueberry growers, especially those who have just started it, ask is “how to prune blueberry bushes?”
Learning exactly how to prune a blueberry bush can make all the difference between an average harvest and an excellent one. But before we move on to the proper way of pruning the bush, let’s discuss what we’re trying to achieve when pruning the bush.
The primary goal of pruning blueberry bushes is to remove sufficient old growth to boost the development of new growth without creating any negative impact on the harvest of the coming season.
The type and the extent of pruning varies with the variety you are growing and the age of the bush. However, in general, you should aim at pruning out the unproductive, damaged, diseased canes as well as removing those that are growing too low to the ground.
Other than the different varieties, young and old blueberry bushes are also pruned differently. Let’s discuss each pruning in a little detail.
- Pruning Young Blueberry Plants
During the first couple of years of growth, blueberry bushes won’t need any extensive pruning. All you need to do is to keep a lookout for any damaged, diseased or pest infested branches and remove them before they affect the rest of the plant.
Though stems of young blueberry don’t need regular yearly pruning, you’ll need to snip any buds that form during the first few years. Of course, that means you won’t be seeing any harvests for these years, but don’t let that disappoint you. Removing blooms during the first season and the next helps the bushes concentrate their energies on the plant development.
Once the bushes are fully established, you can allow some blooms to stay put for the third year and enjoy a light harvest. From the fourth season and onwards, you can let all the blooms develop and fruit and enjoy your harvest to its full potential.
- Pruning Old Blueberry Plants
Older blueberry bushes need yearly pruning with selective cuts to maintain the plant’s health and shape and to boost productivity. If your blueberry bush is 7 years or older, follow this procedure to prune it:
- Remove any dead, diseased, damaged or particularly weak stem. Also remove any crossing stems.
- Remove any branches that are growing too low to the ground.
- Next, remove no more than 2 to 3 of the oldest canes (7 years or older), leaving the rest to grow for the coming season. The oldest canes are the thickest ones. Remove them by cutting them all the way to the ground. Old wood is also easily identified by the color. The old canes are grey, while the young canes are dark brown. Make sure you don’t remove the new canes since those are the ones that bring your harvest.
What Tools Will You Need?
If you own a blueberry bush, you’ll need to prune it annually to maintain the size and quality of your harvest. For proper pruning to maintain productive growth, you need the right tools. Hand pruners are generally adequate to prune one-year old wood. However, since your aim is, generally, to remove older, thicker wood, a lopper or a hand saw is better for the job.
Pruning blueberry bushes is an art that takes some time and experience to master. You may feel that you’re not doing the perfect job the first couple of times, but as long as you’re getting rid of some of the nonproductive canes each time, the bushes will keep producing well each season.