Carol Link: Prime time for prun­ing blue­ber­ries ap­proaches

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - CAROL LINK — Carol (Bon­nie) Link is Mas­ter Gar­dener and an ex­pe­ri­enced gar­den writer from Etowah County, Ala. Send ques­tions or com­ments to clink43@bell­

Late Fe­bru­ary and early March is the proper time for prun­ing blue­berry plants. Younger plants should be pruned dif­fer­ently than older plants. The first two years af­ter plant­ing, re­move all the flow­ers that de­velop. Plants will grow larger and more vig­or­ous if berries are not al­lowed to de­velop. The third year, do not re­move the flow­ers, al­low­ing the plants to pro­duce fruit that will prob­a­bly be small and sparse.

Older blue­berry plants pro­duce best when they are main­te­nance-pruned each year. In late win­ter or early spring of the fourth year, while the plants re­main dor­mant, begin prun­ing by open­ing the plant’s canopy to al­low sun­light to reach the berries that form within the in­te­rior.

Begin prun­ing by re­mov­ing all dead, dam­aged or dis­eased branches. Af­ter that, in in­stances where two branches rub to­gether or cross, re­move the least vi­able of the branches. No fur­ther prun­ing is re­quired.

In sub­se­quent years, per­form main­te­nance or re­newal prun­ing by thin­ning the plant and re­mov­ing the older larger branches, which will en­cour­age new growth. Re­move the lower branches to keep them off the ground and make the fruit eas­ier to har­vest.

Ad­di­tion­ally, se­lect one or two of the older thicker trunks, re­mov­ing the wood at ground level. To re­tain the plants at a height that will make the up­per berries eas­ier to har­vest, shorten any of the un­gainly, longer branches that ex­tend be­yond the plant’s canopy and re­move all weak thin branches.

When prun­ing, keep in mind that older blue­berry wood is gray and newer wood has a tinge of red. Berries form on the fruit­ing spurs that de­velop on lin­ear branches. Flower buds are large, round and plump; leaf buds are thin­ner and pointed.

Af­ter prun­ing, clean up any de­bris from around the plant and clear the area of weeds. Work a bit of com­post or mulch into the soil around the plant and ap­ply a layer of mulch, cov­er­ing the ground around the plant, be­ing care­ful to not pile the ma­te­rial up against the plant’s base. Mulching will help re­tain mois­ture, keep roots cooler and pre­vent weeds from prop­a­gat­ing.

While fruit is form­ing, the plant needs plenty of wa­ter. Wa­ter deeply at least once or twice each week.

If birds are a prob­lem in your area, pre­vent them from eat­ing the berries by cov­er­ing the plants loosely with cloth mesh. Af­ter berries begin ripen­ing, har­vest them each morn­ing.

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