Prune bareroot blueberry immediately after planting?

appletree729April 6, 2014

That's it - just want some advice on whether or not to prune my newly planted blueberry bushes. I just got them in the ground yesterday and they are all watered and mulched - just need to know if I should prune. I've read conflicting advice on this - some sources say not to prune for 3 years, others say to prune immediately�

Thanks for any advice!

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I've never pruned new plants much if any. But these were usually plants with leaves. New plants need all their leaves. Bare roots without leaves could be pruned back. But I don't think it will matter much. The bush will eventually be formed from bull canes that arise low on the bush. That small twiggy growth down low gets pruned out after a year or two depending on how fast the plant grows.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 3:22PM
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Need to know where you live, if you applied fertilizer, the pH of your soil, and the pH of your irrigation water.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 3:23PM
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Are the roots largely whole and intact, or have they been "pruned" in harvesting/shipping? I may be in error, but that is how I judge whether or not to prune, and how much to prune. If a plant lost lots of root, I reduce the top in similar manner.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 4:13PM
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Thanks for the input everyone!!

ericwi - southeastern PA (zone 7). Don't know the exact pH only because I had a few unexpected happenings as I was preparing to plant (there is another thread on that!). pH was too high in the existing bed so I built a raised bed of mostly peat moss, a little bit of bagged soil (a peat mix so I assumed it at least was not too alkaline), some composted manure and shredded pine bark mulch. So I'm guessing it's somewhat acidic.

Don't know the pH of my irrigation water either but I've read that this doesn't affect soil pH as much as some believe? But it would make sense I guess that it would if it was really alkaline.

Anyway - didn't apply any additional fertilizer except for a tiny sprinkle of triple phosphate.

The roots of these plants looked pretty good - I did however prune off a little bit from one of the plants because the roots were really long and I didn't want to be twisting them too hard to get them to spread out.

I think I'd prefer to prune them a bit if nobody knows of any reason to not prune blueberries straight away? I think it makes sense to reduce some of the top growth as the roots are getting established...

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 6:03PM
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My attempts to plant bare root blueberries in the spring have not been successful. What has happened, is that I soak them, and plant them, and in a month or so they leaf out, and look like they are doing OK. Sometime in late June or during July, the leaves will begin to turn brown at the edges, and in a few weeks, the shrubs are pretty much brown. Keeping them watered does not seem to prevent this from happening, it seems to be an issue of growth aboveground versus growth belowground. For some reason, the leaves are able to grow faster than the roots, and when the roots are not able to keep up, the plant dies. For this reason, I prefer to pot up bare root blueberry stock in the spring, and grow the shrubs in a protected spot, away from full sun, until the fall, when they are transplanted into the ground, in mid-September.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:32PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

"Don't know the pH of my irrigation water either but I've read that this doesn't affect soil pH as much as some believe?"

Not sure where you read that but it is 100% WRONG. The PH and more importantly the bicarbonate load in the water is as important as the soil PH IF NOT MORE. Look at it this way.....the soil is there and is done, the water you are going to keep adding for the life of the plant. If the water has a high bicarbonate load the PH of the soil will rise and in many cases quite quickly to an intolerable level for the plant.

I always prune my BB at planting. I like the roots to out balance the tops. If they are bareroot and dormant I remove 1/3 to 1/2 depending on comparing the size of the roots to the size of the tops. At a minimum you want to prune off all the flower buds. If the plants are awake with leaves it really depends how root bound they are. The more I have to cut at the roots to open them up the more top gets removed.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 7:42AM
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So what do you do if your water is too alkaline?

As far as the pruning - one of the plants is *just* starting to get leaves - just the little green tips are starting to show up out of the buds. Still safe to prune you think? This particular plant is the one that I had to prune off some of the roots so I'd really like to be able to prune it…

Thanks for sharing all of your wisdom!!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 7:54AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

Yes safe to prune.

The Ph of the water is not as important as the bicarbonate load in the water. You can have alkaline water that is fine for the bushes and water with the same PH that is horrible for them. There are many approaches from using just rain water to using sulfuric acid in the irrigation water. Some use vinegar it all depends on your water. City water or well? If city call and ask them for a report on the water. If you have to use a water softener? If so that is a good indicator there could be a problem.

What happens is if you have bicarbonate rich water the bicarbonates overwhelm the peat and pines ability to acidify the water. The plants turn chlorotic. Some people use sulfur which will work if the problem isn't too bad.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 8:50AM
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Don't know the pH of my irrigation water either but I've read that this doesn't affect soil pH as much as some believe? But it would make sense I guess that it would if it was really alkaline.
A couple points that I suspect are often misunderstood, and can lead some to believe that water doesn't matter:

1) pH and alkalinity are two different things, even though often used interchangeably in non-technical discussions. However the differentiation is important when discussing blueberries. The difference is what BR is getting at when speaking of bicarbonates in the water. pH is a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in water or other liquids. Alkalinity is a measure of the water's ability to neutralize acidity. It is possible to have two different containers of water, one with a relatively high pH that can be neutralized to pH of 7 with just a small amount of acid, and the other container of water with a relatively lower pH which will require much more acid to neutralize to a pH of 7. This second container requires more acid to bring to neutral because of the level of alkalinity.

One over-simplified analogy would be to compare a straw and a wide beaker. pH would be the measure of how high the water column is in each container. Alkalinity is a measure of how much volume is contained in each. To lower the level of water (eg, lower the pH) from the straw only takes a few drops. However, a few drops taken from the wide beaker does not appreciably change the level of the water. Alkalinity can work like this. There is a 'reserve capacity' in the solution to neutralize acids that can be a significant factor.

One could even think of it in terms of a small or larger battery. A small 12 volt battery puts out 12-14 volts. But it can't run a motor very long. While a large deep-cycle battery still puts out only 12-14 volts, but can run a motor much longer. The voltage is (loosely) analogous to pH, while the reserve capacity of the battery is (loosely) analogous to alkalinity. Both have the same voltage, but the large (metaphorically high alkalinity) battery has much more capacity for chemical reactions.

What this means is that one person may have high pH irrigation water, but that is offset by the acidity of the soil, and the continuing action of sulfur metabolization in the soil, while another has a lower pH, but adding that irrigation water to a blueberry overwhelms the buffering capacity of the soil/mix, and outpaces any sulfur metabolization that would acidify the soil/mix. Relatively high pH may be ok to add, but high alkalinity is not.

2) When some share their experience of not treating the water, or perhaps even state that it is not necessary even though they have a pH of X, the other side of the equation that must be understood is that pH is being managed in a different way - by acidifying the soil - by adding sulfur, sulfur containing materials, and/or fertilizers that naturally have an acidifying effect when the nitrogen is reduced and uptaken.

Neutralizing the alkalinity of irrigation water by adding amendments to the soil/mix is an option rather than treating water, but to me, seems like a very imprecise balancing act. Sulfur metabolization by bacteria to become sulfuric acid is a slow process dependent on suitable temps, moisture, and oxygen levels. The amount of acid and acidification of the soil cannot be accurately measured or anticipated. Meanwhile, an indeterminate amount of H+ ions are being added frequently through the application of irrigation water. I doesn’t seem reasonable to me to even try to calculate how to offset these inputs, and even if one could, the effect would be variable over time.

It seems to me much simpler (in terms of pH management) to water with an irrigation source that is not going to require one to attempt to delicately balance the equation with slow-acting, imprecise additions of sulfur. Whether by rainwater, or treated irrigation water, the pH (an thereby the alkalinity - bringing the pH to 5.5 or 5 will neutralize the vasty majority of alkalinity - eg, the battery has to be drained before the voltage begins to drop) being added to the soil/mix can be readily quantified, and little/no upward creep of pH will be caused by the water.

To others, not having to setup a rainwater collection system, or a way to adjust the water with an acid, but simply add some amendments is the preferred route. It is imprecise, but does not require special setups, or dealing with acids that can harm you (esp your eyes). To them, the imprecision (or unawareness of the imprecision) is acceptable given the ease of adding amendments to the soil, and/or avoiding the setup and use of potentially harmful acids.

Blessed are those whose soil and water are naturally suitable for growing bbs. :-)

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 12:13PM
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Oregon State Extension suggests: "Prune off flower buds at planting. Do not allow plants to produce fruit the first season. Be patient! It’s important that plants grow well the first year, and flower and fruit production hinders growth. . . . Fruit buds are “fat” buds on the tip of last year’s growth; vegetative or shoot buds are barely visible on the lower portion of the shoot."

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 2:48PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I would strip off flower buds to prevent energy being spent on flowering during the early years, without cutting off any live, acceptably placed stem tissue.

Modern, productive blueberry cultivars can be like dairy cows, producing to excessive extent. So with new, undeveloped plantings if you prevent fruiting until the bushes are well sized up you come out ahead in the long run. Otherwise you may end growing little twigs for years that cover themselves with small amounts of fruit but do not grow much.

Top pruning at planting time should be limited to structural corrections, with as little volume of healthy growth as possible being removed. This is true with trees and shrubs in general, not just blueberry bushes. Energy stored in stem tissue during the winter is used to fuel growth of new roots and stems in spring. Routine cutting back of the whole top (or all the roots) should only be undertaken where you want to dwarf the plant, such as is done as part of the annual maintenance of bonsai.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 3:03PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


The universities disagree with you on the don't cut back approach......I have found that trimming the bushes back gets the bushes off to a faster start.....but if that approach works for you great.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 5:52PM
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