Blueberry Pruning

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blueberry fruit

Pruning blueberry bushes each year is an essential part of having a healthy fruit crop and keeping your blueberry plants thriving. If you are dealing with a young plant, it is recommended to remove all flower buds and cut stems back by 1/2. Blueberry bushes produce flower buds the year prior to flowering. This means flowers that bloom this spring were set last summer on new wood, as seen in the picture below.

flower and leaf buds

Keep 2-3 year-old plants healthy by removing broken, diseased, crossing, or spindly growth. This is repeated yearly to encourage proper growth and uniform fruit set on your blueberry plants.

Once plants reach 4-5 years old, prune them each winter by cutting out 3 to 4 of the largest, oldest canes, again remove any crossing, diseased, and low-hanging branches. Prune after the plants have shed their leaves but before flower buds begin to open (Dec-March).

Large, old bushes that have not been pruned for many years can be rejuvenated by cutting out 1/3 of the canes each year for three consecutive years. Cut the canes (or stems) back as close to ground level as possible to encourage the production of new, vigorous growth.

shrub structure before and after pruning

If you are more of a visional person such as myself, the next link will help you visualize it. 

Blueberry Pruning Diagram  These five slides illustrate the pruning strategy for blueberries, from new plants to well-established three-year-old bushes.

Pruning Tools Blueberry plants are pruned annually during the dormant period before they begin to grow in the spring. Like any project, having the right tools always makes the job faster and easier. Most fruit-producing plants can be pruned with hand shears, loppers, and a pruning saw.

common pruning tools

Blueberry Information Portal – North Carolina State University

North Carolina is home to a thriving blueberry industry. The state ranks 6th in the nation for blueberry production, growing nearly 40 million pounds in a year. Annual industry production is valued at roughly $70 million. Discover North Carolina’s rich blueberry history and learn more about the people and organizations that continue to grow the industry into one of the state’s most valuable (and desirable) crops.

For more information or have questions about pruning, contact Bryan Hartman, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent at bkhartman@ncat.edu.