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Pruning blueberries – How and when to prune blueberry plants for a better crop
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Blueberries are a wonderful berry, one that has been heightened in popularity because of ample health benefits. Blueberries actually grow on bushes which produce canes that shoot upward from which branches and side shoots grow. The fruit gets produced on top of those side shoots, but only on old wood from the previous year. This means that the most productive canes are those that are about three years old. Any branches that are 4 years old or older start to diminish in productivity. And this is where pruning comes into play.
The easiest way to prune blueberries which often works well is to prune around a third off the bush every 3 years. Read on to learn more about pruning in more detail and specific steps.
Why do you need to prune blueberries?
Because of the way blueberry bushes grow, pruning is essential to keeping your bush highly productive. After all, most people don’t grow blueberry bushes for the beautiful leaves, they grow them for the berries. Once your canes get too old, the production goes down and unless you prune them, your bush won’t be able to put energy into growing new branches. Regular pruning produces a flush of newer branches which, within three years, become the perfect branches for berry production.
In order to enjoy consistency, you can prune your blueberry bush every year. Some bushes will produce very heavy harvests but in so doing you typically get a crop every other year rather than a moderate harvest annually.
What are the benefits of pruning blueberry bushes?
- Pruning the older canes will remove some of the fruit-bearing branches, but it will help you to really achieve that balance of fruit production.
- Pruning also gives you better fruit quality. By getting rid of some of these fruit buds, the remaining fruit will actually grow larger.
- Finally, pruning regularly keep your bush at a manageable size and height, encouraging better air circulation, preventing diseases, and allowing light to penetrate all of the fruit throughout the bush so that you get even sweeter blueberries.
When to Prune
Prune between November and March
You can prune your blueberry bushes at any time between November and March. Nonetheless, it is best to wait until temperatures are warmer, sometime around March for most gardens in the Uk. When you prune in March you are also more easily able to distinguish between the flower buds and the leaf buds.
How to prune blueberry bushes
If you have a young blueberry plant, one that is only a few years old, you will need to remove any diseased or damaged branches as soon as you see them. If, after 1 year your younger plant hasn’t pushed outward, you can cut the longest stems back by approximately one-third to encourage this. It’s painful but you should remove all the fruit buds you see you for the first few years so that in the third-year you will have a significantly better harvest and a healthier plant.
Always prune out any diseased or damaged growth first
If you have an older blueberry bush you want to remove diseased or dead wood first and foremost. Any stems that are crossing one another and rubbing against one another need to be removed. Low branches that, when heavy with fruit will end up touching the ground should be removed thereafter. Blueberry bushes have shallow root systems which mean suckers can appear a short distance from the base of the plant. You want to remove these so that your blueberry bush does not get to spread out. If you noticed that some of the branches are too tall for the size and shape that you have, cut them back.
Once these housekeeping steps are out of the way, it’s time to prune with a purpose. Renewal is the purpose. This process of renewal removes the older canes so that new ones can grow. You don’t want to leave any branches that are more than six years old. Remove the oldest ones all the way down to ground level.
Mulch around the base after pruning
Once you have finished pruning your blueberry plant we recommend adding a good layer of ericaceous compost as mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture and help stop the ground from becoming dry, it also helps add some nutrients back into the soil.
Pruning is certainly more of an art so, when you are looking at your bush, exercise your creativity and determine the shape you need, which branches you think are dangerously close to one another, and which branches need to be done away with.