How to Prune Blueberry Bushes

, written by gb flag

Blueberries

Blueberries have acquired something of super-hero status in recent years. They’re vaunted as cancer-busting because of their high anthocyanin content, while research showed that blueberry extract reduced the effects of ageing on animals’ brains. Could it get much better?

Other fruits have similar properties, so don’t rush out and grub up half the fruit patch. Nor are they the only reason to grow blueberries (see our article Why You Need Blueberries which also details the different types that can be grown and the soil requirements), but they’re certainly a good reason why you should persuade your bushes to fruit as well as possible. This, of course, means pruning.

Understanding Blueberry Fruit Production

A blueberry bush grows canes which then produce branches and side-shoots. The fruit is produced on the tips of side-shoots which were new the previous year. (In essence, fruit is produced on year-old wood.) The most productive canes are around three years old. Wood that is over four years old begins to lose vigour and eventually becomes unproductive.

Why Prune Blueberries?

As old wood doesn't bear much fruit we need to prune it out to encourage new wood to replace it. A really hard prune will produce a flush of new growth and, with this in mind, some people prune only every three years but cut back a lot. This sort of thing never works for me, mainly because three years passes in a flash and, before you know it, five years have gone by and you have to start a rescue mission.

Blueberry bush before pruning
Blueberry bush before pruning

It’s easier to keep a bush consistently productive by cutting back every year. Some blueberries have a tendency to overfruit (give extremely heavy harvests) which can lead to biennial bearing, where you only get a crop every other year. Pruning out older canes will take away some of the fruit-bearing branches, helping keep the balance between fruit production and new growth.

Pruning also improves fruit quality, as removing some of the fruit buds will result in larger fruit.

Finally, of course, you want to keep the bush at a manageable height and its centre uncongested (to encourage air circulation, help prevent disease and let the sunlight penetrate to sweeten the fruit).

When to Prune Blueberries

In the northern hemisphere blueberries can be pruned at any time from November until March. However, it’s generally better to leave it until temperatures are warmer, around March in my garden.

Pruning in March also means that it’s easier to distinguish flower buds (fatter and rounder) from leaf buds (thinner and pointier), although you can wait until the blossom’s out to remove some, should you decide to do that.

Blueberry bush after pruning
Blueberry bush after pruning

Pruning Young Blueberry Plants

For a couple of years after planting, you really only need to keep an eye out for diseased, damaged or ill-placed branches and remove those. However, if you find that your young plant hasn’t bushed out in the first year, you could encourage it by cutting the longest stems back by around a third, to just above an outward-facing bud.

You will also want to remove all of the fruit buds in the first couple of years (yes, I know, it’s painful), and only allow a light harvest in the third, so that the bush puts its energy into growing.

Pruning an Older Blueberry Bush

The tidy-up comes first. Prune out all the dead, diseased wood. Remove crossing stems and any crossing or particularly spindly-looking branches. Then remove any low branches that will touch the ground when fruit-laden.

Blueberries have a shallow, spreading root system and suckers can sprout up some distance from the bush. Remove these to prevent the bush becoming too spread out.

Take away any accumulation of twiggy wood at the end of branches. Cut these back to an upward-facing bud or the nearest branch. If some canes are too tall for you, then head them back to an outward-facing branch.

Pruning Blueberries for New Growth

Now you want to prune for renewal, taking out older canes to encourage new ones. A good rule of thumb would be to ensure that you don’t leave in any canes more than six years old, and that a mature bush has one or two canes from each year below that.

Blueberries

So take out the oldest canes, either at ground level, or by cutting back to a vigorous-looking young side-shoot. (Old wood is grey, has spindlier side-shoots and fewer fruit buds.)

If, by any chance, the bush has thrown up a plethora of new canes the previous summer, remove all but a couple, choosing the strongest. If there’s little choice and a young cane looks weak, either take it out entirely or cut it back to a more vigorous side branch. Alternatively, if there are no new canes, you need to bite the bullet and prune back a bit more than you have before.

Should You Remove Fruit Buds?

A great deal of advice recommends removing fruit buds. This feels scary and I’d say get to know your bush and your own wants. Fewer fruit mean bigger berries, but you might prefer smaller ones. The pruning regime above may remove enough of the fruit buds to ensure that it doesn’t overbear, but if it blooms extensively one year and not the next, even with pruning, then you need to remove some of the fruit buds the following year and probably every year to keep it fruiting annually.

Pruning is an art, not a science, as I like to remind myself when getting panicked in front of non-textbook pruning problems. We don’t have to be perfect every time. Bushes don’t always perform according to the book, so get to know them, and if you find an older cane produces better than a younger one, teach the latter a lesson and remove that instead!

By Helen Gazeley

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Comments

 
"I found this article on pruning blueberries very helpful and has come at the right time for me. I have two 3year old and 1 one year old bush, and was wondering when and if to prune them. I was planning on pruning at the end if this month, but will now leave it until later in March. I had an excellant crop last year, hopefully some TLC this year will improve the yeald. "
Margy on Friday 3 February 2012
"I got a blueberry bush from Aldi last August, having put it in a pot, I will not be pruning other than light pruning of dead wood for the next couple of years. Gathering no fruit but my question is can you take cuttings and if so when and how is best to do it?"
Steve C on Friday 3 February 2012
"I have my garden in Northwestern Wisconsin, where the weather gets very cold. I sometimes wonder when you talk about gardening, planting or pruning, as in the story about pruning bluberries, whether you are referring to a much more temperate climate. I normally would never think of pruning in March."
Cindy M on Sunday 5 February 2012
"In reply to Cindy, from Northwestern Wisconsin, I live in East Yorkshire, England, Pruning of all fruit bushes in this area is carried out from about October to end of February unless its very cold [like 2010 -2011]. That year I left pruning until much later. "
Margy on Monday 6 February 2012
"When is the best time to transplant blueberry bushes? "
ann on Wednesday 8 February 2012
"Hi, Ann The best time to transplant bushes is while they're dormant, so now should still be OK. Don't move them if the ground is frozen. Dig a nice big hole, dig in some compost to the soil, dig up the blueberry, keeping the root ball together as much as possible and plant in the hole, ensuring that it's planted at the same soil level as before, and water it in well. "
Helen Gazeley on Friday 10 February 2012
"Hi, Cindy We try to take account of as wide a variation of conditions as possible, but March is a good marker for most people. I wonder if you're a trifle cautious on holding back on the pruning in your area. Here's a video from Wisconsin Public TV of winter pruning in Wisconsin, where snow is on the ground in January. http://wpt.org/gardener/transcript.cfm?id=556"
Helen Gazeley on Friday 10 February 2012
"Hi, Steve Jeremy's been asked this quiestion before over at the growguide on blueberries, http://www.growveg.com/growguideplant.aspx?id=91. Here's his answer to your question: Cuttings for blueberry bushes are usually taken from soft green wood. Take a 6-8 inch cutting, remove all the leaves apart from the last three and then stick it into damp soil. After a couple of months they should root. The other method is to take a branch close to the soil, scrape it a bit and bury the scraped part of it while it is still attached to the main plant, perhaps weighing it down. This is called layering and should produce a new rooted plant by the next season. You should soon be getting plenty of soft woody growth, so let us know how you get on. "
Helen Gazeley on Friday 10 February 2012
"Thanks Helen it never occurred to me to take a look anywhere else. I take it the best time for that is in August in the UK?"
Steve C on Friday 10 February 2012
"Hi, Steve I have to admit to, whenever I can, propagating by layering plants as it's such a labour-saving way of doing it (just potted up a couple of new gooseberry plants generated from layering this week) but I'd say August is getting a bit late for softwood cuttings unless you're somewhere that blueberries get going very late in the season. Have a go earlier, say June, and choose cuttings from strong early growth. "
Helen Gazeley on Thursday 16 February 2012
"Oh my Blueberries! I went out and purchased 3 different kinds of healthy blueberry plants 2 years ago. I planted them in rich, acidy soil as they said and added cottonseed and balanced organic fertilizer. Well, they have grown maybe 3 inches since that time, have leafed out nicely but only about 10 buds per plant have arrived (which i pick off like you say). So, now they are 3 years old. And I am waiting to have some harvest and more growth. Am I doing something wrong. I live in coastal mountains at 2800 ft with average winter temp of 30 degrees, some snow and lots of rain. I planted them with plenty of drainage."
Kate on Friday 2 March 2012
"Kate, did you buy them in pots and were the pots very full of roots? It sounds to me as if they could have been pot-bound and haven't grown roots out into the surrounding soil after you transplanted them. If you loosen the soil around them a little and find that you can easily lift the plants out, with the original rootball and compost below, then that's the problem. If this is the problem, then they may never get going, but have a go by teasing out the roots and replant in square planting holes (round ones encourage roots to circle). "
Helen Gazeley on Monday 5 March 2012
"Helen, I purchased my Blueberries bare root. I just transplanted 2 of them to a different area..using acid compost, dry horse manure, good soil, organic all purpose fertilizer 4-4-4 and cottonseed. I see that there is new growth on all the plants, but not much. When I transplanted those two the roots looked good. I don't know, maybe I got some bad ones to begin with."
Kate McCay on Tuesday 6 March 2012
"the plants look like there under attack .leaves dying some of them look like they have been cut straight across with scissors .even the new fruit buds are dying. what can I do?"
barry on Monday 30 April 2012
"My blueberry bush seems like it is dying. This is its third year. Last year it blossomed well and had quite a lot of fruit. This year the leaves have all gone yellow and not much flowering."
Alison Hunt on Sunday 24 June 2012
"Alison, yellow leaves can indicate too much water or not enough water. However, being a blueberry, I wonder if your soil isn't right for it. Here's a useful sheet from Oregon State University: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/ec/ec1560-e.pdf, in whch it says that if you have small, yellow leaves with contrasting green veins after a year or two of planting, then the soil probably needs modifying. "
Helen Gazeley on Monday 25 June 2012
"Excellent very informative. I have two transplanted bushes. Both gave large harvest this first year. One dried out during a hot stretch of days while I was gone on vacation. It is looking very dead. Should I remove it now. Or give it a chance to recover in the spring. Is there anything I can do now to aid recovery. Thanks for your time. "
Eric R. on Thursday 1 November 2012
"I have ten blueberry bushes. My favorite shot up a sucker. I dug it up and planted it. It has been two years and the new plant is growing nicely and producing berries. So this is another way of starting new plants."
Sarah on Saturday 17 November 2012
"my blueberry bushes will be 1 yr old in the spring. They are in large planters. I live in Northern California where my climate geets down to freezing once in a while. They did very well through the harsh frost. They produced a good crop for little guys and I followed directions on planting. Should we prune this year? Can you prune them like you would a rose bush, clean out the middle and cut old growth to the new buds to the outside?"
Sarah on Tuesday 29 January 2013
"Hi, Sarah For a couple of years after planting, you really only need to keep an eye out for diseased, damaged or ill-placed branches and remove those. However, if you find that your young plant hasn’t bushed out in the first year, you could encourage it by cutting the longest stems back by around a third, to just above an outward-facing bud. You should remove all of the fruit buds in the first couple of years (yes, I know, it’s painful), and only allow a light harvest in the third, so that the bush puts its energy into growing. "
Helen Gazeley on Tuesday 29 January 2013
"We have very mature blueberry bushes that the previous owner of our house planted at least ten years ago. They produced tons of berries this last summer, but then our local electic company came along and sprayed them. They said they sprayed them because they had corrosive thorny weeds growing on them and have to spray anything that looks evasive along the high line. We have never had this problem and even though they are obviously not wild and in rows, indicating a garden they sprayed to kill them anyway. So yesterday I went and pruned them just hoping they may have survived. The branches cut were not brittle and many of them had a pinkish red dot in the middle and some smell. So my question is... Are they still alive? And is there anything else I should do besides cutting them back like a fertilizer or something? I have zero experience in this area, but hope i'm not just wishfully thinking they have a chance! "
Stephanie on Monday 18 February 2013
"That doesn't sound good, does it, Stephanie? Extraordinary - surely the electricity company can't just spray public land without some sort of permission? When you say pink dot, do you mean it has coral spot on the branches? If so you need to cut back any branches affected around 6 inches into the unaffected wood. If the pink dot is in the core of the branches, it sounds as if the spray has affected the whole plant. Must admit I don't hold out a lot of hope for them. However, I always believe in giving things a chance. Cut back anything dying, anything smelling, and try giving them a liquid feed. You could contact the company and see if they can tell you what they sprayed, and then contact the herbicide company to ask if they recommend anything. "
Helen Gazeley on Monday 18 February 2013
"Thanks for the advice Helen. Yes the pink dot is in the core of the branches. I have cut them back to almost nothing so we will see. My husband has contacted the electric company to see if they would replace them, and they pretty much said to bad so sad. Don't know if it's worth a long drawn out "battle", but its very sad because not only us but all the neighbors and their kids picked Blueberries from our plants. We will see how they do, but my husband says the spray they used will kill everything it touches. Wish us luck and thanks again. "
Stephanie on Monday 18 February 2013
"This is a great site.I live in Northern Alabama and Have 18 bushes. They are 7 years old. i have been trimming some, butr now i know how much and how often. Thank you for your advice,My blueberries sell as fast as I can pick them.Thanks Again."
Beverly Hudson on Wednesday 20 February 2013
"I have about 10 blueberry bushes spring time they all bud but the buds dry up and the leaves fall off they look like they are dead but the leaves come back they look healthy no fruit this has happen the last two years what am I doing wrong"
AL McKanas on Friday 1 March 2013
"I have a customer that has 8' blueberry bushes and wants them trimmed. Should I cut any off the top or just cut old wood and suckers and how much top should I cut."
Mike Sicbaldi on Wednesday 27 March 2013
"Mike, cut back the canes that are too tall to an outward-facing bud. How much depends on how tall you want it to be. I suspect your customer would like to be able to pick fruit without a ladder, so to head height might be convenient. "
Helen on Thursday 28 March 2013
" thank you Helen."
Mike Sicbaldi on Thursday 28 March 2013
"Hi Helen, We live in Southwest Ontario, and it is warming up here during the days while dipping down to freezing at night. We haven't pruned the blueberries yet. I can't find any information on what the consequence of late pruning will be. Would it be better to prune late, after some growth, or to leave pruning until next year? Thanks in advance for any suggestions."
Tobi Maniacco on Saturday 30 March 2013
"I have one blueberry bush given to me last summer, there was a few blueberries on it when i planted it. Do I need another blueberry bush to get blueberries this year? "
Keitha on Thursday 4 April 2013
"I "inherited" half-dozen old plants on my land, and this article was helpful getting them into shape after years of neglect."
Scott on Thursday 2 May 2013
"As blueberries like an acidic soil, how often and when during the April - August season do you recommend adding a soil acidifier? Coastal BC Canada Thanks, Tom"
Tom Storey on Wednesday 8 May 2013
"Tom, have you already got blueberries planted in non-acidic soil? If not, I think I'd recommend planting them in containers which you can fill with acidic soil rather than having to amend the soil you've got. "
Helen on Wednesday 8 May 2013
"I HAVE 4 BLUEBERRY PLANTS AND THE BUDS ON THE BRANCHES ARE PURPLE ARE THESE BUSHES STILL ALIVE OR WILL THEY HAVE LEAVES ON THEM AND PRODUCE BERRIES I AM A ROOKIE AT THIS"
MIKE on Wednesday 22 May 2013
"Mike, one way to tell whether a plant is dead is to scrape the bark with your thumb nail. If the underlying tissue looks green, then the plant is still alive. If brown, it's dead. "
Helen on Thursday 23 May 2013
"I am sorry, but this is one of the most unhelpful explanations I have read. You might try a diagram, or a better definition that outward facing bud. "
cwilson on Saturday 25 May 2013
"to Stpehanie. You can request that the electric company DOES NOT SPRAY your property. I did out here in Georgia, they put a triangle on my pole and are not allowed to put out any herbicides. However- beware they can use cutting instruments to cut away growth from the lines. I don't have fruiting things by my lines- but still don't want any of that stuff on my land. "
cwilson on Saturday 25 May 2013
"CWilson - don't worry, we're always happy to explain further. An outward-facing bud is one that, when it grows, will grow away and out from the bush and not into the midst of it."
Helen Gazeley on Tuesday 28 May 2013
"my 6 year old potted blueberry bush has very small shriveled blueberries on it this year. Every other year the blueberries were larger and plump. any ideas whats wrong?"
fran sessa on Sunday 9 June 2013
"Hi, Fran - I wonder if you've been feeding it? You've got a mature plant in a pot, so you need to ensure it's getting enough food and water. "
Helen on Monday 10 June 2013
"How long do high bush blueberry bushes last? Mine are about 30 years old (honestly I have not been pruning) and they have gone from tons of fruit to practically none over the past few years. Have they outlived their life cycle??? I live in MA.6N"
Therese on Friday 14 June 2013
"Therese, 2 points come to mind. One is that all things have their allotted life span and your blueberries could well have had theirs (are they generally looking weedy?). The other is that if you have done no pruning whatsoever it might be worth sorting of the tangle of dead wood which must surely have accumulated and see if you can rejuvenate them. If you really haven't pruned up to now, then I think I'd try that before getting rid of them. "
Helen on Monday 17 June 2013
" I got a question , My blueberry plant some of them grow sucker that are taller then the bushes and the leaves seem to be different. Should I cut them off?"
Lucien Perron on Sunday 23 June 2013
"Yes, Lucien, cut them down to ground level. "
Helen on Monday 24 June 2013
"Fran...concerning small shriveled berries. It's a blight called mummy berries. Do a search on "mummy berries" and you will see what I have been fighting in North Alabama the last five years. Unsuccessfully, I might add... Roland"
R.C. Townley on Thursday 27 June 2013
"thanks for the info on how to prune and trim blueberry bushes. this was really helpful to us, since we live in eastern Tenn."
M. Shields on Tuesday 16 July 2013
"My bushes have seen good growth this season so far and have produced good fruit for the second year. I know have very long canes that don't appear to have buds. Do I cut those back to ground ? Or just let them grow ?"
Sarah on Wednesday 17 July 2013
"Very good article Helen, thank you. I live in middle Tenn and we have 30 bushes that are now about twelve years old. Every year it's more and more berries. We do NOTHING to them. No fertilizer, not even water. We get over twelve gallon zippered bags of berries every year. I'm now thinking of pruning them just for convenience of picking without getting poked all the time. Is pruning a good idea, or should I leave well enough alone ?"
Bob Mund on Thursday 25 July 2013
"Hi, Bob, I know what you mean. I'm a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," sort of person too, but when bushes become difficult to handle it's a pain. I should think that you've got a lot of dead wood, and the twiggy wood that accumulates, so it would be a good idea to tidy the bushes up a bit to make them easier to harvest. However, if you're nervous about the effect, why not prune some of them this year, see how they compare with the unpruned bushes next summer, and then do the rest of the pruning if you're happy?"
Helen on Friday 26 July 2013
"Hey, I am wondering how far to cut my bushes back? I bought them this year and potted them. They looked a little brown at first, so I thought I wasn't watering them enough, but when I got back from a 3 week vacation- all they had was a little rain and thy are greener than ever! But now all the leaves have holes in them. Does this mean its bug infested and I need to cut them back? Also should I spray it for bugs?"
Brie on Sunday 28 July 2013
"We have very old bushes that have given us lots of fruit over the years. This past winter prune resulted in tall, tall shoots that are way above our heads, and very few berries. We wonder, should we cut them down now or late winter to head height, down to the ground, or not at all? We did not get much fruit this summer and are worried about future crops."
Becky & Mike on Sunday 11 August 2013
"We have the same problem as Becky and Mike! We have never pruned, either. Now what?? And when to prune? Can we do it now? We're in Wisconsin Thanks for any help. "
Nancy on Monday 12 August 2013
"Brie, difficult to say why your bushes have holes in the leaves. It could even be hail damage - see http://www.fruit.cornell.edu/berrytool/blueberry/leaves/BBjapaneseb.htm for a picture. You could have an infestation of Japanese Beetle (see picture http://www1.extension.umn.edu/garden/diagnose/plant/fruit/blueberry/leavesholes.html) or flea beetle (description : http://text.lsuagcenter.com/en/crops_livestock/crops/blueberries/pests/leaves/Chewing-of-Blueberry-Plant-Leaves-by-Insects.htm). As you've noticed them in August, you may have Japanese Beetles, and here's a useful article by Barbara on organic control http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/prevent-japanese-beetle-damage-zw0z1304zkin.aspx#axzz2cOaWungA"
Helen Gazeley on Monday 19 August 2013
"Becky and Mike, Nancy, blueberry bushes do tend to become less productive as they age, but these strong shoots indicate that they still have life in them. Reduce the height of the tall shoots after fruiting by about a third. Sometimes you see them called "bull shoots". "
Helen Gazeley on Monday 19 August 2013
"I've gotten some cuttings from my neighbor's bushes. just need to know...do I cut the top from the shoot that i'm rooting, or does it need to stay in tact?"
Julie on Wednesday 21 August 2013
"My 3 large blueberry bushes have never been prune and are getting very tall and lots of branches. Living in the south (Mississippi) when should I prune them? We have always gotten lots of berries, but they are very small berries. I would love some large blueberries for a change."
Nina on Thursday 5 September 2013
"Nina, it sounds as if you might have rabbit-eye blueberries, as you're in Mississippi and the bushes are very tall. Berries on rabbit-eye tend to be a bit smaller than highbush varieties so don't be disappointed if they never get as bit as you'd like. I think you get very cold temperatures, even in your coldest months of January and February? So I think I'd prune this winter at a time when it suits you, but before the bushes get going, which is likely to be early spring. "
Helen Gazeley on Friday 6 September 2013
"My two year old bush is about two feet high with small leaves. It has produced a sucker coming from the base with big leaves that seem to be a different shape and has grown to at least four feet high. Is this a normal sucker or does it need cutting down? Why did it grow? I noticed your reply to Lucien but can find no reference to this phenomena in any other text on pruning blueberries. Many thanks. "
Su on Sunday 15 September 2013
"Hello. I have a number of 2 year old blueberry bushes that have suffered winter damage on stems and have browned. I checked the buds on the damaged stems and they are rbown and dead inside. However, I am not sure how to prune back winter cold damage. Do I cut just above the next live green bud?"
Ella D on Friday 28 March 2014
"Hi Ella, yes, just cut above the next live green bud. Your blueberry bushes will be glad to be rid of the dead wood! You can check if stems are still alive by scraping away a tiny bit of bark with your nail - if it's green inside it's still alive, if it's brown then it's dead I'm afraid. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Friday 28 March 2014
"Thank you Ann Marie. We will proceed to prune our Aurora and Elliot plants accordingly. However, should we expect the same kind of winter damage on all young shoots for these varieties? Does this kind of damage on young plants (2 years old and 3 years old respectively) mean they are sensitive in general (i.e. we can expect yearly problems) or is this kind of damage normal in young plants that have spent their first winter in the field? We had chosen Aurora and Elliot because of their reported winter hardiness."
Ella D on Friday 28 March 2014
"Hi Ella, I haven't seen significant dieback on blueberry bushes (young or old) even during very cold winters, but occasionally some branches that are pruned during a chilly spell can be affected. If your plants are in a frost pocket this may make them more prone to being damaged by the cold. Adding a good layer of mulch before winter may help. You might find this information leaflet from NC State University useful: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-201-e.html"
Ann Marie Hendry on Friday 28 March 2014
"So, having pruned my single lonesome veteran blueberry bush in Northern England, do I feed it now? If so, what with, ericasious liquid feed?"
Ian on Saturday 29 March 2014
"Hi Ian. I've recently mulched mine with rotted sawdust, but you can use any acidic material such as pine needles or leaf mould. If you do want to use a feed I'd choose one with a high potassium content, such as liquid tomato fertiliser, and use sparingly. If using an ericaceous plant feed, check the pack carefully to make sure that it's not high in nitrogen, which will boost production of leaves rather than fruit. Also, you might want to think about getting your lonesome blueberry a chum - two different varieties will cross-pollinate and give a much better harvest than a single bush."
Ann Marie on Saturday 29 March 2014
"I have two blueberry bushes (ordered from somewhere like Michigan Bulb), bare root, about 3 years ago. We placed them in our new raised garden area (enclosed from deer). After all this time there is very little growth...I mean, one is still about two inches tall, the other about 8). Neither have bloomed, and of course, neither have produced anything. What we filled the new beds with was straw bales at the base, and compost above, and then continue to top off with compost as it settles. Trying to keep organic. To acidify, I've put evergreen needles around them, and that's where I place my spent tea leaves and coffee grounds. I think I may have tried diluted vinegar before too. This year, one of them looks dead (but I can't tell yet), and the other might be showing some budding...and it's nearly June. I think there is a 5a and a 5b zone, and I think we are 5a. We will have some below zero temps on occasion, and our winters can be long. Growing season a bit short. The raised beds drain well and also stay cool and moist well. They are probably about 2 1/2 feet in depth. What's a girl to do at this point? I would LOVE productive blueberry plants."
Cherrie on Saturday 17 May 2014
"I have a dozen planted in front of my house.half of my plants have holes on the leaves that were made by worms, now they have made cacoons on them. do I need to cut those back? What do I need to do to keep this from happening again?"
Margaret on Saturday 28 June 2014
"Cherrie, I wouldn't advise growing blueberries in straw bales - blueberries love to be kept moist, and I doubt that straw bales would be anywhere near water-retentive enough. They would be better in a container or, better still (if you have acidic soil), in the ground. It's also possible that the compost you're using isn't acidic enough. You can help to acidify the soil by working in sulphur chips, but this will take a while to work. Margaret, I'm not sure what has been making holes in the leaves but I would advise hand-picking the cocoons off your bushes to limit the spread of the pest."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 28 June 2014
"I have 3 blueberry bushes. They were in very small containers and we transplanted into 3 5 gallon buckets. We have to container garden here. They are very green and very lush but no berries. How long before we get berries?? They were real small when I got them. 6 to 8 inch containers. I got them in May. I live on the coast of Washington State."
Susie Bickmore on Monday 4 August 2014
"I brought a blueberry bush this year its still in its original pot now its cold outside do i leave it outside or bring it in the house help please. "
vickie on Thursday 13 November 2014
"I forgot to add it looks like its trying to bud so i put it in the house should i put it back outside."
vickie on Thursday 13 November 2014
"I'm just about to prune my 3 plants for first time but having read the previous comments I‘m not sure. Have only had them 2 -3yrs and they have put out amazing growth. Had good crop last season but lots of spindly growth. They are still in containers sheltered by wall of the house where they get plenty of sunshine in summer in UK. Weather is warming during the day although still some night frosts. Must I protect the plants after pruning?"
Diana Heyes on Friday 27 February 2015
"Hi Diana. You shouldn't need to protect plants after pruning - they should be fine with some night frosts, particularly now it is warming up in the UK."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 2 March 2015
"My bushes had an unusually heavy snow and the weight of the snow broke many branches and I would like to know how I should go about pruning."
Tom fitzgerald on Sunday 5 April 2015
"My bushes are growing leaning toward the South. It is as though the wind has blown them in that direction. They do not have any growth in the Northerly direction; as though they are leaning. What could this be? I get a lot of berries off of them, and am just curious about this development. I have a nice size vegetable garden, and everything grows properly."
Charles on Wednesday 8 April 2015
"Hi Tom, prune out damaged branches by cutting just above a healthy new upward- or outward-facing bud. If the branch is broken off close to the main stem and there are no new buds below it, prune it off quite close to the main stem but not flush with it."
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 8 April 2015
"Charles, I wonder if your blueberry bushes are overshadowed by trees or buildings? If you're in the Northern hemisphere, it's likely that they're leaning towards the light."
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 8 April 2015
"thank you Ann Marie Hendry. sounds good. "
tom fitzgerald on Wednesday 8 April 2015
"Really helpful advice. I live in N Yorkshire and planted 2 different varieties in pots in ericaceous compost a couple of years ago. I water with rain water and liquid feed monthly in summer with rhododendron fertiliser. They're in a sunny site; both plants are growing well and look healthy. However, although they produce quite a lot of fruit both years all the fruit drops off around the plants just before ripening. Very frustrating! Have you any suggestions?"
Lynn on Friday 10 April 2015
"Hi Lynn, if the berries look healthy I wonder if your bushes are getting enough water? Blueberries are thirsty plants and are at home in quite damp (but not waterlogged) soil, so if they're stressed from not enough water in summer it's possible that they'd shed all their fruits before they ripened."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 11 April 2015
"I live in Nova Scotia, Canada, where we have had a brutal winter. Is it too late to prune now?"
Kathryn on Monday 20 April 2015
"It seems my blueberry bushes are hit or miss with producing. I can't complain because I've literally haven't done much to maintain, and even still had some tremendous years. Just haven't had time. However, on bad years like last year they barely budded or when they started, it seems they either fell off, or shriveled up or looked dried out without getting one blueberry off of them. Not sure it was lack of water and think it was too early for birds. Is there a spider mite or pest that would get to them before blossoming in Spring? I saw a few little things that looked like webs last year so assumed insects. There are three bushes about 4 ft tall, probably 10 years old. And there is a fourth bush that got huge, but no berries ever, is it the male? That one has become like a tree. I just pruned the lower hanging branches on that. I look at this year as a clean slate, but would like to know what I should be doing right now to help promote a good blueberry harvest. Any help appreciated as well as organic advice for ridding pests if that's the case. Once I resolve this I'll move onto the Concord grape issues! I live in New England."
Brian on Tuesday 21 April 2015
"Hi Kathryn. I would say that if your plants have only just started to burst into life following the winter, you should be fine to prune now."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 23 April 2015
"Hi Brian. Blueberries have male and female flowers on the same plant, so are good at self-pollinating, although they will always set fruit better when they have plants of other blueberry varieties around them. I would suggest trying to attract bees to your garden. Plant plenty of bee-attracting plants to put your garden on their map, and avoid using pesticides in the garden that might harm them. Mulch the base of the plants well, to lock in moisture and gradually feed the soil. I am not sure there is a spider mite that affects blueberries, though there is something called the blueberry bud mite - if your plants show red blistering that could be the problem, but it sounds unlikely. Make sure your plants are properly pruned, as described in the blog. Cutting out old wood so new wood replaces it will ensure a good balance of branches for fruit production."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 23 April 2015
"I am pleased to have found this active, informative site! I have 4 blueberry plants, each a different variety, all high bush I believe. This is in the Boston area. I have overpruned two of them in past years. They only have two not very lively canes. HOw do I stimulate more cane growth? Should canes be coming up from below the soil line as well off existing canes? Maybe I would be better off digging them out and putting in new ones."
Joel on Friday 8 May 2015
"Thanks Ben. Good to know. I did prune the old wood branches and it looks like i have some pretty good budding right now and lots of green leaves. At least looking healthy for the moment. I don't plan on using any pesticides. I'll take your advice and then hope for the best. Thanks again!"
Brian on Friday 8 May 2015
"Hi Joel. New branches will come from the existing trunk and branches. To encourage new branches I would concentrate on making sure that plants are properly mulched - with an acidic mulch such as pine needles or pine chippings. Keep plants watered in dry weather. They may also benefit from a high-nitrogen fertiliser, such as blood or fish meal. Coffee grounds will help to promote the acidic conditions they love, while bonemeal and seaweed fertiliser will boost potassium and phosphorous levels as the bushes flower and set fruit."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 12 May 2015
"I just planted a blueberry bush in the spring and my neighbor decided to weed eat it down! I was wondering if there is any chance on it coming back?"
Chad b. on Friday 22 May 2015
"Hi Chad. There is a chance it will come back. The only thing you can do is hold tight and hope it does. You should know within a month or two. I hope it does - good luck with it!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 May 2015
"Well, what I thought was going to be a good year just came to a halt. Things were progressing nicely until about a week or so ago when I went to go check on the blueberry bushes again and saw what I had explained in an earlier post. All blossoms gone, nothing on the ends of the branches etc. It hit me...caterpillars! I should've known with all the little black droppings on our cars along with pollen, when I went out to take a look I saw those little inch worms, some silky webs and holes in the leaves...I don't see a single blossom anymore. I assume, like other years, not to expect anything now. Such a shame because they were looking really good and healthy. Is there anything I can do going forward to prevent them? So bummed. thanks."
Brian on Tuesday 26 May 2015
"Last year I planted 3 blueberry bushes under the canopy of tall oaks in rich, acidic soil in eastern Massachusetts, zone 6b. They didn't show much growth last year, and earlier this spring they were attacked by winter moth caterpillars which I sprayed with organic insect killer. All three bushes are very leggy and havent bushed out much. They were pot grown, and I did spread out the roots when I originally planted them, but they just don't seem to be thriving. Any suggestions?"
Geri on Saturday 6 June 2015
"Hi Brian. The best you can do is to ensure they don't overwinter in the leaf litter or branches. You can apply a winter wash in winter when the branches are bare. Spray this on a still day and get it into all the cracks and crevices - anywhere the eggs may be hiding. Also make sure you rake up ALL leaf litter from the ground. You could also very lightly fork over the soil surface to expose any bugs and eggs for the birds to snap up and feed on. So sorry you've had another bad year for your blueberries."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 June 2015
"Hi Geri. It sounds like your bushes may not be getting enough light. The leggy growth hints at this. If you can, try re-planting them away from the canopy of any trees, so they are in full sunlight. Dig up as much of the soil with the roots as possible - try not to disturb the roots. Keep the bushes well watered this summer until they settle down again. Use rainwater if you can - water from the forcet/tap is less acidic than rainwater. You could also try feeding your plants with a suitable plant feed - one for acid-loving plants."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 June 2015
"Greetings from Montana... Everything that I have read talks of plants/bushes with multiple canes.... While most of my bushes have multiple canes, one of my bushes has only one.... And no new ones have ever come up in the past four years... Is there a way to force this bush to generate new cane growth?????"
Chuck Lewis on Tuesday 7 July 2015
"Hi Chuck. You could try cutting back the one cane by about a third to encourage it to bush out and produce further stems. Make sure you cut just above a bud. Do this in late winter."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 14 July 2015
"Thanks Ben.... Appreciate the reply... And for all the replies folks have made... Seems to go in cycles where a new person steps up to answer questions.. Thank you Ben, Helen and Ann Marie!!! I for one appreciate your knowledge and advice! "
Chuck Lewis on Tuesday 14 July 2015
"OK. Here goes. First time ever. Have 10 bushes over 10 years old. Have one bush over 25 years old. All except 2 are over 7 feet tall. Too tall for me. Never been pruned. The 25 year old one is about 15 feet tall, and very leggy. Others are leggy also. Plenty of berries except this year. Good berries, just not as many. Big bush is putting our little berries. Time for a haircut?? If I just cut everything off at belt level, will I kill the bush, or will they come back next year. August now, so in 3-4 months, will do the deed if you deem it safe. I can do without the berries for a year or so. Just do not want to kill the plants.....Ron"
Ron Mallon on Tuesday 25 August 2015
"Hi Ron. Advice from Cornell University's Department of Horticulture recommends rejuvenating old, neglected bushes in stages - removing about 20% of growth every winter. They do mention that some growers have had success cutting all canes to ground level, with production starting some three years later. Here's a link to their helpful fact sheet on the subject: http://www.fruit.cornell.edu/berry/production/pdfs/blueberries/bbprunerejuv.pdf "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 4 September 2015
"Thank you Ben for the advice. Made a copy of the article. Will follow through. Now, Part 2. Can I trim the parts that I prune off and try and re-root them? Be a shame to just throw them away. Maybe just take the last couple of feet from the cane and put in some rich potting soil or something. We are very clay heavy here, so will have to make a suitable plant nursery for them. Thoughts? "
Ron Mallon on Saturday 5 September 2015
"Hi Ron. You could try taking hardwood cuttings using pieces of pencil thickness about six inches long. The best time to do this is usually late winter/early spring. Pot them up into acidic potting soil. If you can give them a little bottom heat, then they will root more successfully. Keep the cuttings watered. They shoot root by late spring. Not all of them will take, but it's worth a go."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 14 September 2015
"Thank you Ben. Will give it a go and see what happens. Will keep all posted, as I cannot imagine I am the only one who would like to do this. Have read the article, and will choose and mark the ones to be sacrificed this winter, and save the others for next year, and so on, till I get a manageable plant. Since I have enough berries in the freezer to last us till next year, not to worry. At the prices I have observed in the store, we have saved almost enough to go on vacation, just with the berries. Take care, Ron.... "
Ron Mallon on Monday 14 September 2015
"I live in Christchurch New Zealand and have just planted 300 reka and 330 sunset blue blueberries (northern highbush) 3 year old plants from cuttings. have taken all of the fruit off. They have just finished flowering and have noticed the leaves are quite red..is this normal for a young plant or they need any fertiliser? Any info much appreciated!cheers"
Dave on Thursday 15 October 2015
"It was recommended for my area that the blueberries be planted in containers. How deep and how wide should the containers be. If it makes a difference, I bought two pink lemonade and a delite bush. they are real tiny now. some say just keep transplanting, but I don't know when I would need to transplant and would prefer to get the right sized container from the get-go. also I was told to prune back a third of the highest shoots and the saplings coming out the bottom and all of the buds. but I have hardly any leaves left... will the leaves grow back in, or have I killed the bush?"
Andrew on Wednesday 16 March 2016
"It has been a while since I was on here. Due to health and other reasons, did not get to cut back my very, very, very leggy plants. Did I tell you they were leggy? Anyway, they have started to bud out and have a lot of fruit on them, so will wait till fall and cut back as much as I can to bring them into some semblance of order. Lots of berries right now. We will see if they all mature. I have noticed that there are a lot of "babies" coming up next to the mature ones. Is it okay to take them off the old root system and try and reroot on their own? If successful, will end up with over 40 plants. Lots of berries. Everything looks very healthy now, so hope things turn out okay. Will keep you posted. We live in southeastern Virginia, and the soil is heavy, the weather unpredictable, moisture and humidity levels high most of the year. I have no idea of what kinds of plants these are. They are blue and round, that's all I know. And delicious, especially with cereal. "
Ronald Mallon on Monday 30 May 2016
"could I h.ave a fax sheet on pruning blueberries grown in the sub- tropics"
ted cullen on Sunday 14 August 2016
"Hi Ted. Unfortunately we don't have a fact sheet for this. I'm not sure what special rules apply for pruning in the tropics. It may be worth visiting or enquiring at a local fruit nursery to get local knowledge on this."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 15 August 2016
"I have many plants, about 60, all at least 20 years old. Over the last 3-4 years I have started pruning annually (only done intermittently before that). I am in New England and would like to 'catch up' on some pruning that I missed last spring. I was only able to finish pruning aprox. 40 of the bushes. The bushes I did not get to have obvious canes that need pruning. I want to prune them this fall, again, they didn't get completely pruned this spring. I know spring is best. Will I do major damage by cutting the oldest canes out this fall? "
Laurie on Friday 26 August 2016
"My bluberries seem to be sprouting non woody sucker like branches at low level. Should I remove these or support them? The plants are less than six months old "
Wyn Holleran on Thursday 8 September 2016
"Hi Wyn. I'd hold fire on pruning for now. Plants require very little pruning during their first two years. You can remove any damaged, weak or crossing stems from the centre of the bush. Very thin stems growing parallel or close to ground level (as opposed to up and away from the ground) should also be pruned out."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 9 September 2016
"Transplanted 3 old (wild?) blueberry bushes last fall. They are now producing flower buds but NO leaves (at all). Zone 4b. Any ideas?"
Kathy on Friday 2 June 2017
"Hi Kathy. I've asked Ann Marie, who also writes for the Growveg blog, about her experiences of blueberries. This is what she has to say: 'My two tend to hang on to some of their leaves over winter, and this year they definitely produced flowers before the new leaves caught up. Since Kathy’s bushes have recently been transplanted, it may just be that they’re still settling in. Blueberries can take a while to feel established in a new spot. Mine have been moved, and a couple of years on they're only just starting to find their feet.' I hope this helps."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 7 June 2017
"I have nine plants that are 20 years old. Two plants only have a single trunk coming from the ground and don't set a lot of berries. Should I cut these two to the ground this winter and let them re-grow? Or just leave them as they are? The other seven plants all send up numerous new stems every year. From these nine plants I average 15 gallons of blueberries a year. Dave"
Dave on Thursday 27 July 2017
"Hi Dave. Hard pruning of old shoots encourages lots of renewed growth, so I'd be inclined to prune them hard back in winter as you suggest."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 31 July 2017
"Thanks for this informative article. No matter how long one does something, there is always more to learn. My (originally five of them) rabbit eye blueberries are about 35 years old and still producing prolifically. I prune about every two years - not by design, just put it off until the weather is too warm, so it ends up that way. I tried to take cuttings last year, and started them in wet sand. At first they looked like they were doing well and put out some leaves, but them withered and gave up the ghost. Being such well producing bushes, I would love to start more of them. Any advice for starting besides what you have given? Is it okay to take young cutting from the pruned branches? That's what I did before. I put deep layers of wood chips around them every two years to keep the grass down and lower the soil Ph. Thanks."
Sammi on Saturday 6 January 2018

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