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Pruning Blueberry Plants

Priya Johnson Nov 23, 2018
Do you own a blueberry garden? Are you wondering how to go about pruning your blueberry plants? Which is the appropriate time of the year to carry out pruning? How to revive neglected plants? Are you looking for these answers? Read on ...
Indigo-colored blueberries are relished for their sweet-tart taste, and are eaten fresh, or can be stored by drying or freezing. Blueberries are used to make jams, pies, salads, tarts, pancakes, cakes, ice-creams, and the list goes on.
Besides the rich, delicious flavor, they are also known for nutritional values. Blueberries are rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin A, and magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Many people prefer to grow them in their gardens.
However, the job doesn't end at planting. Blueberry plants have to be regularly pruned to obtain good quality fruit.

Why should blueberry plants be pruned?

The quality and quantity of fruit obtained from every blueberry plant depends on the efficiency of pruning. Lack of pruning management results in overgrown plants and less fruit yields.
Regular pruning will not only ensure the plant's vigor and productivity, but also assists in insect and disease control. The objective of pruning young blueberry plants differs from the mature ones.
Pruning carried out in younger plants is to promote it's survival and healthy growth, whereas in mature plants, pruning is carried out for good quality fruit yield and desirable size of the plant. Regular pruning results in blueberry plants with lower number of canes and greater number of fruit.

When and how often should pruning be carried out?

Blueberry plants should be pruned on an annual basis, right from the time they have been planted. As soon as the blueberry plant is one year old, pruning must be carried out. Further, regular pruning must be carried out every year there on.
Irregular pruning results in low productivity and unstable production of fruit. Besides, if you prune the plant heavily one year and neglect it the next year, the pruning done in the previous year will cause many young canes to grow at the same time.
These canes will mature and even become non-productive at the same time. So, after skipping a year, when you get back to pruning you will find all similar and non-productive canes, and you will have to remove them all, thus resulting in removal of the entire bush. Hence, regular annual pruning must be carried out.

Which is the appropriate time of the year to carry out pruning?

The most appropriate time of the year to prune blueberry plants is in early spring. Often blueberry growers are found pruning in winter, however, it is better to carry out pruning in early spring.
The reason behind this is that in early spring, you can identify all the canes that were injured during the winter and can have them removed. Besides, by spring all the carbohydrates produced in autumn would have been transported to the roots for storage, thereby minimizing the loss to the plant.

How to prune blueberry plants?

The type of pruning carried out depends on the size and age of the plant. Pruning management carried out for young plants differs from that of mature plants.
Young plants: The motive behind pruning young blueberry plants is to enhance vegetative growth and not fruit production. Early fruiting results in stunted blueberry plants and low fruit production. Therefore, make sure you remove all the fruit buds found at the terminal 2-3 inches of the plant.
Prune off 2-3 inches of the previous year's growth to ensure elimination of the fruit buds. Don't worry about discarding the vegetative buds by mistake, because they are located at the basal parts of the shoot. You can even distinguish flower buds from vegetative buds from their appearance.
Flower buds are large and plump, whereas vegetative buds are thin and pointed. When the plant is 3 years old, you need to discard all weak and twisted canes. If you find that the previous year resulted in growth of many canes, remove the new canes, except two healthy ones at the crown. Continue a similar pruning till the plant reaches eight years of age.
Mature Plants: Mature plants (8 years) require more selective pruning so as to maintain a particular shape and size. Calculated cuts have to be made and removal of few mature canes has to be done, thereby obtaining a balance between the older branches heading towards non-productivity and young canes heading towards production.
The removal of one or two mature canes will stimulate the growth of new young canes. It is always wise to have a blueberry plant with canes of different ages. A mature plant must comprise 10-20 canes of different ages, thereby ensuring minimal decline in productivity.
Removal of mature canes will result in lesser number of fruits borne, however, the fruits produced overall will be larger and of good quality. Also remember to remove all the injured canes.

What kind of tools are suited for pruning?

Select tools that will enable you to prune the plant effectively without causing any injuries to it. Use tools such as hand pruners, handsaws, loppers, etc., however, make sure they are sharp.
Don't use tools that are not razor-sharp, and also ensure your pruning equipment is sterile. Non-sterile equipment could result in diseased plants. Another point to remember while pruning is that for best results, push the branch away from the blade.

How to revive neglected blueberry plants?

If you have neglected your blueberry plants for a number of years and now wish to rejuvenate them, there is still hope for the plants. Even though pruning plants that have been neglected for years is quite cumbersome, it can be achieved.
While pruning them remember a few points.
  • Remember to discard all weak, injured, and diseased branches.

  • Remove all the branches that are touching and crossing other branches.

  • Remove lower growth in order to prevent fruits from being formed near the ground.
  • For every 6 young canes, remove 2 older ones.

  • Make sure that enough air and sunlight reaches the central portion of the plant.

  • Prune the poorly maintained and over-sized plant to a desired shape.
  • Make sure the crown and the middle portion of the plant is loosely-knit as compared to the base.

  • The plant should be narrow at the base, open in the center and free of vegetative congestion.
As the years go by, keep discarding 20% of the older canes and eventually the productivity of your plant will increase.
Pruning blueberries needs perseverance and patience. Looking at the bright side, it is an investment for good quality blueberries. Regular pruning reduces your overall maintenance, time, and cost. Mastering this art will take time and practice, and the more you do, the better you will get at it.