Prune Blueberries in February
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Blueberries are one of the most maintenance free of all the small fruits that can be grown by home gardeners. These long-lived plants will bear for many years and if fertilizer needs are provided for and correct pruning is maintained, the yields should be substantial. Plants should produce about ½ pound of fruit per bush by the third year and mature plants can easily produce 12 to 25 pounds of blueberries on each plant.
Fertilizer needs for plants vary because of size. While a new plant needs only one tablespoon of 10-10-10 per plant at six-week intervals, a bearing plant should be given one cup of 10-10-10 every six weeks until July 1. Fertilizer should not be applied in the spring until the first leaves have reached full size.
Pruning helps to control the size of the bush and increases fruit size. It also encourages new, vigorous growth on which next year’s fruit is borne. When a new bush is planted it should be pruned back severely when planted. Older plants should be top pruned in late July to control the height of the bush. During the winter, old canes and tall shoots should be cut back to force branching at a lower level. Try to take out old canes in the center of the plant to increase air movement. Remember that flowers are borne on 1-year-old wood so pruning is essential to promote new growth each year. This year’s pruned branches will provide next year’s fruit.
Blueberries get ripe about two months after they bloom. Berries continue to grow in size and flavor after they turn blue. Fruit should not be picked until it is fully ripe, three to six days after turning blue.
February is the best time to thin old canes here in Burke County. Yearly pruning and thinning keeps plants in top producing shape. Remember that only old canes from the middle of the bush should be pruned at this time. Take out 1/3 of the oldest canes at ground level. Top pruning is done in late July after harvest is over.