Transplanting old blueberry plants

melvinnJanuary 23, 2009

I'll try this again on a new post. I am going to dig up several very old blueberry plants that have been growing at an old farm and haven't been maintained for years. They are large plants and I am wondering the best way to dig them up and replant. They seem to be fairly healthy plants.

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Every time I have tried to transplant an older blueberry plant to a new location (defined as 7-8 years or older) they did not do well at all and were eventually taken out.

That may not be everyone's experience, but I wouldn't try what you are proposing to do. Place your bet on vigorous young one or two year old plants. You will be much better off in the long run.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 7:52PM
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alan haigh

Don, its funny, but in the conditions here I have found blueberries the easiest thing in the world to transplant. I have heard the opposite and I'm guessing it depends on the conditions- climate and or soil in which they are grown. Here, healthy, at least 10 year old plants, that have been growing under mulch form a shallow and dense, very fibrous root system that allow you to easily move them without burlap. They hold the soil without any help and pop right out of the soil with minimum effort.

For instance, in late fall 07, I transplanted six full sized 12 year old plants by digging them up with a long handled King of Spades and throwing them in my truck unwrapped. I drove them to their new site, prepared the soil with supplementary peat and sulfor, mulched and they came out in Spring like they had never been moved. They all bore a full crop.

My experience has only been with northern highbush varieties but in my entire career I have never had a problem moving a single plant. Much of the soil shakes free from the roots but a good amount is held. I wish I could get the same results when I move pears.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 8:49AM
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Nine years ago I purchased a half dozen mature Bluecrop blueberry plants dug from a farm that was converting into a grape vineyard. The sellers had pruned about 2/3 of the stalks down to the base and had cut the roots into a root ball of about 18 inches in diameter. These were planted in the usual way and have been mulched, fertilized and watered regularly. The plants have cropped annually since then but have never put out the type of large caliper growth that had originally been pruned off, and the production never matches what I've seen at pick your own operations (though I don't have another variety for cross pollination).

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 9:56AM
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alan haigh

There is a point of diminishing returns. I suspect that if a blueberry plant is over 20 or so it may not be worth transplanting.

Any fruit plant can runt out if it is not managed properly after transplanting. With blueberries as with many other fruits you should remove all flowers the first season after transplanting. I get away sometimes with not doing this if I save most of the existing rootstructure, but if the plant doesn't come out gangbusters the following spring- the fruit goes or better yet the flowers. Sometimes with spurry varieties (pears and apples) I'll hack off most of the spur-wood so the plant doesn't invest too much in forming flower buds for the following year. Then you have to be sure that the plants never suffer drought, especially in the early growing season.

I don't know why anyone else should have a problem, my experience is limited mostly to a 100 mile radius from southeastern NY. Where the weather is hotter and the soil different there may be complications of which I'm unaware.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 11:49AM
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Well, there you have it Melvinn, two conflicting opinions. Take your pick. You seem inclined to take the plants, so when and if you do, take as much of the rootball as possible, as suggested by Harvestman. The rootball will be extremely heavy, and it will not be easy.

My experience is more like that of Pluto #54. The plants I transplanted did survive, and even produced some berries, but they never resumed healthy growth, and there was little to no production of new canes, which are necessary for good production.

I would go even further than that to say that very old blueberry plants, say on the order of 20-25 years or more, enter an irreversible decline. A woody mass begins to form at the base. They will continue to produce, but the caliper of new canes, if any, begins to grow smaller. I believe the best years of Northern Highbush blueberries are between about year 5 and year 25.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 11:58AM
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Gonebanans also explained how to create new shoots on an earlier post. I'll try to get as much new growth wood from these plants as I can. I have a lot of space, so perhaps it would be worth a try to transplant the root balls too.

Thanks for the help.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 3:47PM
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alan haigh

Actually, rereading the original post, those plants sound very old so there may be only one opinion regarding those particular plants. I was reacting not to the original post but to Don's follow up, I'm afraid I forgot how old the plants were that were actually being discussed. I have no experience transplanting blueberries more than about 14 years of age. I have often transplanted younger plants because it it my business to do so.

I have seen older plants that were purchased from commercial blueberry farms that were obviously sold because they were beyond their prime. They never became productive. When a plant reaches senesence there is no point in moving it but if a plant continues to send out vigorous new growth it is still middle-aged and worth relocating in my opinion.

I apoligize for not reading the original post more carefully to begin with but the discussion at least had some fertility of expression.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 4:58PM
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glennkid(z5b WNY)

Stumbled on this post and thought I would share my experience.
About 6 years ago I transplanted 1/2 dozen 30 year old Blueberry "trees". They were about 8' and neglected. I dug them up with a shovel, dragged them several hundred yards, "walked" them up temporary brick stairs to the bed of a pickup truck, driven 35 miles, and planted. All in early Summer. They didn't miss a beat the next year.
I prune old wood and vigorous new shoots pop up every year. I mulch with compost, use aluminum sulfate, and some miracle grow. They are healthy looking and flourishing. Tough as nails.
I believe they are a mix of Early Blue, BlueRay, BlueCrop, Stanley, Jersey. I am moving again and yes I will be transplanting these guys at least twice more for the move.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 3:59PM
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alan haigh

I don't think chronological age is the issue. If a plant is still highly vigorous it can take abuse- if it is in decline stress will take its toll. Maybe blueberries age more slowly further north.

Never heard of a Stanley blueberry. Great story, by the way.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 5:58PM
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glennkid(z5b WNY)

Stanley is mid season yeilder with a thicker skin and isn't as sweet as BlueRay, EarlyBlue, etc.
I think the chance of success is proportional to the root ball size. I only transplanted one a day because of the energy expended. I believe I nearly passed out several times :).The plants averaged about 6-8 canes.The original soil was sandy loam - just perfect soil. So by taking an almost completely intact rootball the shock was minimal.
Another note, I have 5 planted in full sun with maybe 3 hours of late day shade, mulched with compost.These produce well. I do have some cane dieback but the new shoots produce large fruit. The plants are fuller now than ever.
I have one planted in full sun, southern exposure, close to foundation (white vinyl siding),along with various xeriscape (salvia) plants. This site is a gravel/soil mixture and mulched with pea gravel. This lone Blueberry does not fruit well at all. Small diameter and sparse fruiting. Also, I have never had any cane dieback on this one plant. It looks the same as when I first planted except with another 4-6 inch of growth. I love the asthetic look of this bush. Tortuous branching, beautiful bark - nice form.
I think you are right about heat index and production. Moisture seems to benefit my fruiting.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 3:04PM
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Only thing I could see causing a problem is the Acidity in the soil. A 12 year old bush is obviously in an environment that it loves. When moving it I would try and duplicate the soil PH levels as closely as possible.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 3:45PM
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alan haigh

As I said in earlier post, I don't have any experience with blueberries that age- not just transplanting but any relationship except picking fruit. I always love it though when someone's experience contradicts others. It teaches you not to overvalue your own anecdotal insights. Horticulture is very quirky.

I wonder if you had not gone to so much effort and just moved the roots and not too much soil, what the results would have been. I've been surprised at how well the plants I've transplanted have done where I made no effort to hold on to any more soil than what the roots clung to. This being with younger plants.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 6:07PM
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