Normally I prune Blueberries before they start to break dormancy. In the Northeast, this is usually in late March. This year, of course, there was over two feet of snow on the ground at that time so I only got out to prune my blueberries today, in mid-April. As gardeners we learn to be flexible if nothing else.
Pruning blueberries is good practice for life in general. It’s all about looking toward the future, taking action and ignoring our fears. If you want bumper crops of fruit you have to prune every spring even when most of your mind is screaming “WHAT? You’re going to take that much off? But there are flowers on that branch? Did you hear me, FLOWERS!”
Here’s the thing about blueberry bushes: the plants are the most productive if you stimulate new growth and what’s the best thing to promote that new growth? You guessed it: pruning.
The simple recipe for pruning blueberries is this:
1. First take off anything that’s dead. Dead is dead and there is no bringing it back, so get rid of those sticks/limbs/twigs right away.
2. Next look at the bottom of the plant and find the biggest, oldest canes. These are the ones that are light brown or tan/grey. You want to take out between a third to a half of these stems at or near ground level. Don’t look at the tops and say to yourself, “Oh but there are buds there and these could be berries.” That’s fear speaking, not the voice of future fruit production. Just focus on the bottom stems and cutting them, ignoring the tops, and you’ll be fine.
3. After those stems are cut with the lopers, use your pruners and remove any stems that are curved, weak or funky looking. Next take off any stems that are growing into the center of the plant instead of away from the center; these stems just make the shrub congested, not to mention less attractive, and they ultimately rub against other stems making wounds.
4. Lastly, find any crossed branches and remove one of them.
5. When you make the cuts above, prune down to where the stem you’re removing joins another – don’t just chop these twigs off mid-way.
6. Remember this (repeat as you cut if you have a hard time removing budded branches): “Pruning always stimulates new growth.” Always.
You’ll notice that I didn’t touch the tops of these plants at all. Once I cut out deadwood, a third of the oldest canes, crossed branches and anything weak or funky I was done pruning. This is because pruning is about improving appearance, and in this case fruit production, not controlling size. You can use this approach with many shrubs.