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.
Carol (Bonnie) Link is Master Gardener and an experienced garden writer from Etowah County, Ala. Send questions or comments to clink43@bellsouth.net.