Blueberries: The perfect time for pruning

Whether blueberries or blueberries: Get to the pruning shears.

There are probably few tasks in the garden that are as easy as pruning blueberries or blueberries. For the first few years, you can leave the plants alone anyway – and even later, the maintenance required isn’t high. We’ll take a look at when exactly you should prune your blueberries and how it actually works.

Blueberry or blueberry: what is the difference?

The two terms are usually used synonymously for the same plant. In most cases, it refers to the so-called cultivated blueberry with the thick, light blue fruits. It originates from the USA, where it is called blueberry. In contrast, however, there is also a wild form of the blueberry, which is native to forests in Europe. Its fruits are much smaller and dark blue.

The wild form grows more slowly and is not cut by anyone, of course, but is nibbled on by deer and other forest dwellers and thus kept in shape.

Whether you call the cultivated blueberry in our gardens a huckleberry or a blueberry, regular pruning is a good idea in either case.

Why prune blueberries?

Blueberries should be pruned back when they reach a certain age to ensure they continue to produce a good crop and remain healthy. Berry bushes can stay fit and bear fruit for a long time without regular pruning, but by removing old shoots, the harvest is more abundant and the berries are of better quality. They are larger and usually taste sweeter and more aromatic.

At first glance, it may sound strange that you can harvest more by removing fewer shoots, but the younger shoots bear better. The older a shoot gets, the more lazy it becomes with flowering, and eventually it hardly bears any fruit.

A “tidy” shrub gives younger shoots room to grow and plenty of sun gets to the fruit. Plus, pruning increases the chance that your blueberry will stay healthy. In a loose and airy bush, the leaves can dry well after rainfall, which especially prevents fungal diseases.

However, your blueberry doesn’t need its first real pruning until after about 3 to 4 years. Exceptions are dead branches, which should also be removed earlier.

Pruning blueberries in pots – A question of variety

If your blueberry grows in a pot, in most cases it will be pruned in the same way as in the open. However, there are some varieties that remain much smaller, so-called “terrace fruit” or the dwarf varieties. They grow more slowly and require less pruning, but old shoots must eventually give way even with them.

Blueberries in containers, however, can grow just as large as in the open if the planter is large enough and holds plenty of soil.

Pruning blueberries – The right time

So when is the best time to prune your blueberry? Generally, the plant is cut in the cold half of the year. Then it is in a dormant period and tolerates pruning well. In addition, it does not bear foliage, which, of course, makes pruning easier for us. Important condition for pruning: it should not freeze and frost should not be announced.

Pruning blueberries in autumn

A possible date for pruning blueberries is autumn. From October, the bush slowly loses its leaves and until the first frost usually takes. In November there is not too much to do in the garden – so you can use this time to get your blueberries in shape.

The advantage of pruning in the fall: You can provide the blueberry with a thick layer of mulch right after pruning. For example, lay bark mulch around the plant. In winter, this layer can be somewhat thicker. You can also cover the soil with fir branches. The roots of the blueberry run shallowly under the soil and are thus well protected from frost.

Pruning blueberries in spring

You can also prune blueberries in early spring. The disadvantage is that when it starts to get warmer, there is a lot to do in the garden anyway. Therefore, get to work as early as possible, depending on the weather, pruning is possible as early as February.

You must not wait too long, because the pruning must be completed before the plant sprouts again. In warm temperatures, sprouting can begin as early as March.

The advantage of last-minute pruning is that you can combine it with the first fertilizing and, if necessary, renew the mulch around the plant. In the best case, the blueberry is fertilized at the beginning of the new growing season, i.e. at the time of new shoots in spring.

Cut blueberries like a pro

At a glance:

  • Use clean, sharp tools.
  • Old shoots must go, younger ones remain standing.
  • Shoots that grow inward at an angle are removed.
  • One must give way from shoots that cross each other.
  • 6 – 8 shoots should be left at the end.

How to do it:

Pruning blueberries is not difficult at all. All you need is a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears. They are really very important so that the cuts are already smooth and the shoots don’t fray. Otherwise, pathogens can get into the wounds.

The goal is to end up with about 6 – 8, maximum 10 stable shoots left. There should not be more, because the plant will later bear foliage again. Too many leafy shoots do not allow enough light and air inside the shrub.

So when pruning, you need to choose the right shoots. Old shoots will eventually bear little fruit and are therefore removed. You can recognize them by their bark: it is no longer green or slightly reddish like that of younger shoots, but instead brown and woody. In addition, cracks and furrows often form over time.

Cut off these old shoots just above the ground.

There may also be shoots that are even younger but simply growing awkwardly. For example, if they are protruding into the interior of the shrub, you can cut them off close to the ground as well. Sometimes two shoots cross each other and rub against each other. In this case, choose one of them and remove the other.

If there are 6 – 8 shoots left, that’s great. You can also shape them and shorten them a bit to encourage further branching. The blueberry bears most of its fruit at the ends of the very young branches. So we want as many of them as possible to form new ones. To do this, cut off the tips of the branches where the blueberry bore fruit last season. It will then sprout new branches in these places.

Caution: Do not accidentally cut off the very young shoots that have not yet borne.

Radical pruning?

Only very old blueberry bushes that have not been pruned for many years need to be radically cut back. In such a case, the oldest shoots are cut back close to the ground and the younger ones are also shortened considerably. They should then still be about 30 cm long.