Pruning Blueberries Is An Art Of Balance

Daniel Huggett of Columbus Blueberry Farn in Ashville, OH, examines his young blueberry bushes to determine how much to prune off. (Photo credit: Gary Gao, Ohio State University)
Daniel Huggett of Columbus Blueberry Farn in Ashville, OH, examines his young blueberry bushes to determine how much to prune off. (Photo credit: Gary Gao, Ohio State University)

Pruning blueberry canes is an art of balance. Growers must tow the line between yield and quality when it comes to pruning, and often it’s a matter of opinion.

“How much is enough?” says Gary Gao, Extension specialist and associate professor of small fruits with The Ohio State University. “Because different growers approach them differently. Some growers aim for a good yield. Other growers aim for the best quality possible.”

It can be hard for growers to decide how much to prune because it takes a conscious decision to eliminate some of the potential fruit. However, as much as growers are risking by pruning, there is also a risk of poor fruit quality if only light pruning is made on a plant.

“If they don’t prune the bushes properly and they leave too many flower buds, when the bushes come out, they can’t support all those flower buds,” says Gao. “The plants will be overloaded with berries and then all of the blueberries will be small and not very sweet.”

Gao also points out that growth will be stunted in the future if a bush is loaded with too much fruit.

“When the bushes produce too much fruit, they will not grow as much (in the future),” says Gao. “If (a grower) didn’t prune them hard enough in 2013, the bushes will not grow as much in 2014 and they will not produce as many flower buds this year, and yield will be reduced next year.”

Age Does Matter
The age of the cane does impact how much pruning should be done to a cane. Gao offers these pruning tips for each growth stage of a blueberry cane:

Young Plantings (less than three years old):

    • Remove flower buds to encourage growth
    • Remove short, weak stems at the base of the plant
    • Remove short, horizontal stems too close to the ground

Fourth Year Through Sixth Year

      • Count flower buds on a stem and guesstimate what the yield would be for that bush
      • Based on past years’ yields, estimate whether the plant could support a little more yield or whether some buds need to be removed
      • Remove short stems with small flower buds
      • Remove most horizontally growing canes
      • Keep canes that are large in diameter with big flower buds

Mature Plantings

      • Maintain proportions of canes of different ages: (two to three each of one-year-old canes, two-year-old canes, three- to five-year-old canes)
      • Cut out canes older than six years old to encourage new growth.

With good pruning, Gao says that bushes can last 50 to 75 years. But, growers must keep in mind that canes need to be constantly renewed, keeping a constant ratio of young, thriving, and mature canes.

“(I know of) one planting that was probably 75 years old in northern Indiana; this couple pruned them very hard and very well every year, and from a distance I could not tell,” says Gao. “It looked like a 15- to 20-year-old planting, but it was more like 75.”

Learn By Doing
Gao suggest that pruning is a lot like learning how to swim. He says the best way to learn how to prune is to actually prune.

“You just have to watch how other people prune and then you do it, and you watch more and then you do it again,” says Gao. “It just takes a lot
of practice.”

Gao also suggests that growers seek out their fellow blueberry growers to compare strategies. He says there is more than one way to prune, and it comes down to each individual grower’s preferences.

“Growers have to look at their bottom line; do they want to produce the biggest berries possible, so they can get the highest prize? If you want to have every single berry look perfect, you would prune extremely hard so the berries would be huge and you’ll get the best quality blueberries,” says Gao.

Hold Off On Pruning This Year
Thanks to extreme cold this year, researchers are advising growers to wait to prune. (For more on winter injury, see “Time To Check For Winter Injury”).

March, though, is a good time to see what type of weather injuries the canes may have experienced, and then prune accordingly.

“With the weather being so cold, I would delay pruning until March to see what kind of cold injuries (the plant may have) or what the cold weather has done to the flower buds or to the bushes in general,” says Gao. “If winter injuries are moderate, growers need to make sure that the bushes are not too overloaded with berries by pruning their bushes a little harder.”

Gao says he expects young canes of sensitive varieties to be hit with winter injury, but growers may not see the impact that the weather had on older canes until later in the growing season.

“We’ll probably see the delayed response in May or June, where all of a sudden two or three larger canes may die,” says Gao.

As for what type of crop blueberry growers may expect this year, he says “all bets are off.”

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

Berries Stories
Blueberry necrotic ring blotch
Berries
October 29, 2016
Pest And Disease Diagnosis 101 In Berries
Using some of the experts and information available can help you avoid problems in the berry patch. Read More
A product shot of Wish Farms' elongated blackberry clamshell
Berries
October 10, 2016
Wish Farms Going Bigger, Bolder With Blackberries
Central Florida-based operation meeting consumer demand by extending its berry program. Read More
A bunch of 'Sweet Sensation' strawberries lined up for photo purposes
Berries
October 3, 2016
Florida Strawberry Growers Have A Sweet Sensation On Their Hands
Study shows the latest variety from UF/IFAS berry breeders is not only heads and shoulders above others in flavor, but also shelflife and color. Read More
giant-berry-promotion-red-state-blue-state
Berries
October 3, 2016
Forget Donald And Hillary – Vote Your Berry
California Giant trending on #BerriesforPresident; strawberries are leading blueberries. Read More
Mechanical strawberry transplanter, the first of its kind in California, developed from collaboration among Driscoll’s, Plantel, and Solex.  (Photo credit: Surendra Dara)
Berries
October 1, 2016
New Mechanical Strawberry Transplanter Wows
New tool, developed in California, helps to alleviate labor needs during summer planting season. Read More
Spring Valley Farms blueberries near Umatilla, FL
Berries
September 24, 2016
Time Is Now For Florida Blueberry Growers To Dig In
Coming off a challenging season, industry players must continue to adapt to curveballs thrown by Mother Nature and market forces. Read More
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS
Berries
September 23, 2016
What U.S. Consumers Think About Florida Blueberries
For growers, the good news is that shoppers like what you are serving up. But more can be done to whet appetites. Read More
The Latest
Berries
November 28, 2016
Reserchers Develop Lower-Cost Options Fo…
Research team seeks alternatives to over-the-row harvest systems. Read More
Berries
November 16, 2016
Florida Blueberry Growers Warned To Watc…
Pathogen has been confirmed on three farms so far. Read More
Berries
November 1, 2016
Worker Awarded $700K Following Collapse …
Maine man awarded damages following heat stroke, says blueberry grower was negligent in training him for work. Read More
Berries
October 29, 2016
Pest And Disease Diagnosis 101 In Berrie…
Using some of the experts and information available can help you avoid problems in the berry patch. Read More
Berries
October 10, 2016
Wish Farms Going Bigger, Bolder With Bla…
Central Florida-based operation meeting consumer demand by extending its berry program. Read More
Berries
October 3, 2016
Florida Strawberry Growers Have A Sweet …
Study shows the latest variety from UF/IFAS berry breeders is not only heads and shoulders above others in flavor, but also shelflife and color. Read More
Berries
October 3, 2016
Forget Donald And Hillary – Vote Your Be…
California Giant trending on #BerriesforPresident; strawberries are leading blueberries. Read More
Berries
October 1, 2016
New Mechanical Strawberry Transplanter W…
New tool, developed in California, helps to alleviate labor needs during summer planting season. Read More
Berries
September 24, 2016
Time Is Now For Florida Blueberry Grower…
Coming off a challenging season, industry players must continue to adapt to curveballs thrown by Mother Nature and market forces. Read More
Berries
September 23, 2016
What U.S. Consumers Think About Florida …
For growers, the good news is that shoppers like what you are serving up. But more can be done to whet appetites. Read More
Berries
September 22, 2016
Investors Clamoring For Automated Strawb…
Naturipe joins growing list of backers in the labor-saving vision and mission of ag-tech startup. Read More
Berries
September 22, 2016
It Behooves Blueberry Growers To Protect…
Placing priority on bee care best practices will ensure sweet success for your crop. Read More
Berries
September 20, 2016
How To Track Irrigation: Keep Your Eye O…
Time-tested, color-appropriate method for following water movement in plasticulture veggie crops could prove fruitful in blueberries, too. Read More
Berries
September 17, 2016
Florida Blueberry Growers Keen On Two Ne…
Low-chill, machine-harvest capabilities define these southern highbush selections. Read More
Berries
September 13, 2016
New Peach-Sized Strawberry Big On Flavor
Latest variety from Cornell University geared for growers seeking success in local food sector. Read More
Berries
September 13, 2016
New Berry Releases Hit Marks For High Yi…
ARS varieties offer growers two new alternatives to industry standards. Read More
Berries
September 2, 2016
Strawberry Grower Fined For Demanding Ki…
Operator reportedly demanded rent, payments for transportation and expenses incurred bringing workers to U.S. Read More
Berries
September 1, 2016
Pick-Your-Own Pointers From Expert Blueb…
30-year veteran Bob McConnell shares tips on variety selection, production practices, and finding your market. Read More