Proper pruning practices contribute significantly to consistent production, high yields, and good fruit quality and help ensure a long life for your planting.
The best time to prune is in the early spring when you can assess and remove winter injury. If you prune in the fall, wait until after the leaves fall off. Simply topping the canes to stimulate lateral growth is generally not recommended. To prune properly, it helps to understand more about how blueberries grow and produce fruit.
The largest blueberry canes do not produce the most fruit. Rather, canes that are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter at their bases are the most productive. In fact, canes greater than 1 inch in diameter allocate increasing amounts of energy to the leaves at the expense of the fruit. Removing these old large canes makes the bush behave like an efficient young plant, even though the underground portion is quite old (see Figure 24).
The ideal blueberry plant should have at most 16 canes. The oldest one or two should be eight years old, and then there should be one or two left from each of the previous years. You can accomplish this by allowing only the two strongest new canes to grow each year from the time the bushes are planted until they are eight years old. By that time, the oldest two canes should be about 1 inch in diameter.
Early in the ninth year, prune out the two largest canes and all but the two largest one-year-old canes. If repeated annually, this practice minimizes uneven growth and production. The oldest canes are continually replaced with the same number of new canes, and the bushes remain the same size.
If you are pruning old neglected bushes, you can remove up to 20 percent of the basal area (the total diameter of all the main stems) of a bush without
adversely affecting the current year's yield. Although pruning this hard will reduce the number of berries, the increase in fruit size compensates for the reduced number.
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