Ferguson: Pruning blueberry plants in the summer

Published 11:32 am Friday, June 24, 2022

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In Louisiana, we have a long enough growing season that we can prune blueberry plants shortly after harvest and get regrowth and flower bud development on that new growth. On the other hand, if you wait until wintertime to reduce bush height, you’ll likely be cutting off already-developed flower buds that could have produced fruit.

As a rule of thumb, prune blueberries for height no later than the end of July.

While it’s not absolutely necessary to prune blueberry plants every year, reducing their height can make them easier to pick. The amount of new growth that the plants put out after they’re pruned will depend on their vigor and the fertility of the soil, but as a general guideline, cut them to about one foot lower than the maximum height at which you want to pick berries next year.

An added benefit of pruning blueberry plants shortly after harvest is that flower buds on vigorous shoots put out in the summer tend to break later the following year than flower buds on less vigorous growth produced earlier in the season. This means that in years that we have a late freeze, it’s less likely that flowers on these shoots will be injured by low temperatures.

Besides reducing plant height for ease of picking, the other major step to pruning mature rabbiteye blueberry plants is to remove one to three of the oldest canes each year. This allows more light into the bush so that fruit isn’t just produced on the outside of the canopy. It also encourages plants to grow new canes from the base. We want blueberry plants to produce new canes, since older growth tends to become less fruitful over time.

Removal of several old canes can be done either after harvest or during the winter, when plants are dormant. Look for canes that are roughly one inch or more in diameter at the base and cut them close to the ground. The amount of wood cut out each year should be roughly 10 to 20 percent of the total wood present.

I’m offering a blueberry pruning demonstration at the Hammond Research Station (21549 Old Covington Highway in Hammond) at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 8. Please RSVP if you plan to come. For accommodations for persons with disabilities, please contact me at least one week before the event. The LSU AgCenter and LSU provide equal opportunities in programs and employment.

Let me know if you have questions.

Dr. Mary Helen Ferguson is an Associate Extension Agent with the LSU AgCenter, with horticulture responsibilities in Washington and Tangipahoa Parishes. Contact Mary Helen at mhferguson@agcenter.lsu.edu, 985-839-7855 (Franklinton) or 985-277-1850 (Hammond).