Pruning Blueberries in Warmer Climates

Bradybb WA-Zone8February 22, 2013

I am posting this because I see a few questions on other threads with people asking about how and when to prune their Blueberry plants,most likely Southern Highbush and possibly Rabbiteyes in Zone 8 on up.
I'm in a cool Zone 8,just about any Blueberry can be grown here,but most people grow Northern Highbush and a few varieties of Southern Highbush.Rabbiteyes are less common than four leaf clovers,although they may do fine.I have two young ones to try.I prune my plants during the Winter as needed.
But from what I've read,pruning is done a little differently in the hotter Southern areas, to extend the harvesting season?If someone could elaborate about this,I think it may help a few people. Thanks,Brady

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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


Here in Florida I grow southern high highbush and some rabbits though that may be coming to an end. Our winters have been so mild lately I am seriously considering removing all the rabbiteye as they are setting small crops.

Our season starts early...I will have ripe berries starting to flow in 2 weeks.

The accepted practice here is to prune the bushes immediately after the harvest is over. There are two reasons for this.

1. The earlier we prune post harvest the earlier the bushes will be the following year. For the commercial folks that is a good thing but for those of us that don't sell it does not matter.

2. Because we have such a long growing season basically 9-10 months we have enough time after summer pruning for the bushes to flush new growth and make fruit buds for the next season. The pruning stimulates the plants to grow so basically by pruning we make the bushes bigger and bigger bushes can produce more fruit.

This year the harvest will be done by mid May I would guess and I will wait till mid June to prune..they are just getting to be too early.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 7:33AM
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Good questions Brady. I will only comment on what I have observed with my plants in my area because I haven't been doing this long enough to say what's right or wrong. Im defiantly still in the learning curve with my plants.

With Rabbiteyes I think there are a few things to consider. I live right next to the gulf of mexico, with in 1 mile of Galveston Bay. Needless to say its very humid here in a normal year. Add a very wet spring on top of that and leaf fungus becomes a issue with the spring flush of growth. My limited experience with them has shown me they are more sensitive than SHB to really humid/rainy conditions when it comes to leaf fungus and premature leaf drop. I saw this last spring. In a dryer environment it's probably not a big deal? Can't say cause I don't live in a dry environment. Because of that I tend to prune to keep the center of the bush open which seemed to help with my fungus issue. Also some varieties of Rabbiteyes can get very tall and I'm not crazy about breaking out a ladder to pick fruit. What I've doin the past 2 years is after harvest I cut the fruiting canes back to about four feet. By the end of the season they are right back to 7ft or so when they stop growing. Perfect for picking I'm my mind. Now some varieties are more up right while some are more spreading so prune accordingly. Also in late winter I will do a light prune to thin fruit buds on the tips of branches. I dont know if I even need to do this as I obviously thin next years crop by topping back the plants at 4ft but I do it any way. I leave 5 to 6 fruit buds but I may really be shorting my self on fruit. Maybe some one can correct me here? I do know that berry size has not been a problem. They are very large so far. Chill hours have also been a concern for me here with Rabbiteyes. From looking at a chill hour chart for my area we only received 180 or so chill hours in 2011-2012. For some reason it didn't seem to effect any of my Rabbiteyes negatively. They all fruited and leafed out fine. This year I'm showing 250 or so chill hours so it should be a good year for them if the past holds true. All mine fall in the 300-450 chill requirement. Maybe excessive pruning is keeping them fruiting and growing???? I don't know,,,, I would think lack of chill hours would keep them from fruiting and leafing out but I haven't seen that yet???

SHB are a little different. Now keep in mind I'm growing all my SHB in pots with the exception of one Emerald. I can tell you this, the one Emerald in my raised bed is massive compared to my potted plants. It's actually wider, just as tall and much more impressive than my rabbiteyes! Now with SHB it's all about controlling crop load as a over producing plant can bring on unwanted disease. Stem blight is bad one that can kill a plant in a matter of months. How much fruit is too much??? Don't know and don't want to find out. I'm not in it to push a plant, I'm in it to feed my 3 boys home grown organic goodness! I have pretty much followed Fruitnuts and Bams advice on pruning them. Prune heavy after harvest and a light bud pruning in late Jan before the buds break to control crop load. I've gone with 5-6 fruit buds on all the major branches. All small thin branches or weak shoots that spout in the fall get pruned out in Jan. So far so good. I haven't had leaf fungus problems on them like the rabbiteyes, at least not yet. I do tend to prune with more of a open center though with SHB also just in case.

Keep in mind I tend to over kill everything so take my post with a grain of salt. I try to be as proactive as possible rather than reactive and that's probably helped me more to this point than anything.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 10:53AM
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