How do I get more leaves on blueberry bushes?

edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)May 26, 2012

I know that the question sounds odd. Shouldn't I want more berries? Well, I was just looking at the thread of posted blueberry pictures, and I noticed that a lot of the plants are very nicely leafed out. I'm a novice grower, and have a 4 yo Bluecrop, and a 3 yo Blueray, and several younger plants, all in containers, here in Northern NY. Both the Bluecrop and the Blueray are loaded with berries. The Bluecrop has some leaves, and the Blueray has very few leaves. Neither is like the ones I'm seeing in these pictures as far as leaves go. Should I do something to get more leaves or should I just be happy they are growing well and producing well? Thanks. Ed

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Bradybb(wa8)

Hi Ed,
They should grow more leaves as time goes on.On some of my plants,I'd like more leaves also.
Possibly try fruitnut's regimen of 1 tablespoon of Ammonium Sulfate dissolved in 2 1/2 to 3 gallons of water once per week until vegetative growth is gained.It's something I will probably start doing. Brady

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 11:12PM
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murkwell

That sounds like one teaspoon per gallon. I have to see if I can find my Ammonium Sulfate.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 1:21AM
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planatus(6)

I understand your concern. My mature bushes load up so heavily that I fear they will overdo things, and I prune rather aggressively each winter.

Bear in mind that as long as the berries are green, they are helping slightly with the photosynthetic load. Meanwhile, foliar growth should start picking up. After the berries are harvested in August, I fertilize to help the plants recover. Seems to work.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 8:41AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

edweather:

One reason blueberries come up short on leaves in spring is inadequate chilling. You wintered yours inside as I remember and you indicated the temperatures were on the warm side. So I'm wondering if the late/slow/weak leafing might not be inadequate chilling. If so fertilizer probably won't help achieve adequate leafing in time to make sweet fruit.

You may need to remove enough berries to get back to a high leaf to fruit ratio. If you don't, it will stress the plants and the fruit won't be worth eating.

How warm was it where you stored these plants this winter? Average low and high would help decide if chilling is the cause. Those northern varieties require a lot of chilling for good leafing in spring.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 8:45AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Thanks everyone. Yes, I think that it might have been inadequate chilling. The temperature in my garage basically never got below 40, and sometimes was as high as 50. I added a little controlled release fertilizer in the spring, and have been using ammonium sulfate once per month. As you can see, the leafing on the Bluecrop (left), might be adequate, the leafing on the Blueray (right) is pitiful. I'd hate to remove berries, but if it has to be, it has to be. Hard to believe that they would be unedible. Which berries should I remove? I will definitely address the chilling requirement better next winter. Thanks. Ed.

Bluecrop, L. Blueray, R., left side of Blueray has some leaves, right side is bare.

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Right side of Blueray

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Blueray branch

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    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 10:09AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

You might just whack off those long shoots that are covered with berries but have no leaves. It's really just a guess as to how much fruit needs removal. You can leave them and see what you get but that might increase the chances of something like stem blight.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 11:56AM
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riverman1

Hi Ed,

The bluecrop looks great but the blueray is definitely lacking some leaves.

Like you I fertilize once a month with about an ounce of ammounium sulf scattered around the base of the plants and I'm seeing very good growth but I still have a couple plants that look a bit leafless. In this case I remove most of the berries until the leaf to berry ratio looks balanced. In this case.....I would remove most of the berries on the lower half of the plant and also those on branches with no leaves.

Good looking plants tho.........they are growing!

RM

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 4:48PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Thanks fruitnut and riverman1. Basically the whole right side has no leaves. How many berry clusters on the leafless branches should I remove to stimulate leaf growth? Do branches have to be totally bare to stimulate leaf growth? If I totally remove the branches with just berries, half the plant will be gone. Assuming I do nothing, will those branches grow leaves next year assuming adequate chilling? There really are no 'long' shoots with just berries. The main shoot in the photo has 12 berry clusters on top, but also has leaves growing just below the berries. I apologize for asking a lot of questions, and maybe some of them are redundant. You can probably sense that I'm hesitant of removing berries, and just want to make sure that if I do anything, it's the right thing. Thanks again, I really appreciate the advice.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 9:47AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

ed:

It's all a guess as to how many new shoots/leaves will grow in time to help the berries. I'd probably remove 50-80% of the berries on the worst plant and leave all the wood for now. See what pushes new growth and then prune and shape the plant for next years crop.

Removing the berries may stimulate new shoots/roots to some extent but to me it's more about berry quality and plant health.

Would you rather have a pint of good berries or a quart or two that taste like blah? Also over cropping severely will reduce next years crop and could even kill the plant.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 10:39AM
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capoman(5a)

What is your goal? If your long term goal is for the plant to get a lot bigger, then remove all the berries and let the plants concentrate entirely on vegetative growth. If you are more concerned with health of the plant and getting larger berries, I would follow fruitnut's advice removing many but, but not all of the berries. I would not prune at this time as it may stunt the plant. Should be done in dormancy.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 2:07PM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

Last year, I had an in-ground bush (either Legacy or Reka- it had both tags...) which looked like your Blueray. I was very excited by the large number of berries on it and didn't thin at all. To my disappointment, none of them properly ripened and it only developed sufficient leaves very late in the season. Most berries stayed small and many eventually turned dry, rather than ripe. The plant survived and I haven't had to thin this year, as it had a light set. Of course, I thinned several other bushes to prevent them from having the same fate. It feels wasteful to toss away potential berries, but not doing so can result in even greater waste.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 5:09PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Thanks again for everyone's feedback. To this point I've been hesitant to remove alot of berries, but after reading the responses, it has to be done. I'll remove most of the berries on the bare side. The few berries on the branches with leaves seem to be developing properly. Can I leave them alone, or should I remove some of them too?? I'm assuming that this is a decent strategy. If not please let me know. Thanks again. Ed.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 1:03PM
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capoman(5a)

Blueberries tend to overbear. If you want to keep a few of the healthy ones, it should hurt, although every single berry will likely take something away from veg growth, however little. If you aren't worried about maximizing growth, then keep a few.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 1:27PM
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JasonNCarolina

low chilling hours. strip fruit where there are no leaves.

The bush is 'overcropped'

This can damage the future growth of the plant if fruit is not thinned and cause plant to become stunted. The fruit with no leaves will be of low quality and no value if you leave them on.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 2:28PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

OK...so the deed is done. I stripped all but one small berry cluster from the leafless branches. After reading Jason's post, I might take all of them off. I'll probably give the plant an extra shot of 21-0-0 in an attempt to stimulate some growth. We shall see. Thanks. Ed.

PS We just had an unusual hailstorm. 1" hail here is BIG. It really did a number on the best melon and tomato plants I've grown in years, but they should recover. It also severed a nice branch off of the Bluecrop. Oh well. Never trust mother nature.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 1:22PM
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riverman1

You did the right thing Ed..........like others have said, you are trying to build a good foundation for the plant to produce in later years. I'm not sure why some plants have just a few leaves while others are loaded. I'm also not convinced that pruning during the growing season is a bad thing.Some of my plants are growing so fast that the limbs get lanky and lean over.......last summer I cut them way back and they are growing like crazy again this summer. I think the key is pretty obvious, great soil conditions, keep the soil moist, and provide a bit of organic/ammonium sulf for fertilizer.

RM

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 7:57PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Just wanted to update.......it's only been 3 weeks, and the bare branches are leafing out nicely. There's tons of new growth showing up, some new branches are almost 3" long already. Hardly looks like the same plant. Thanks for the suggestions everyone. Ed

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 2:53PM
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riverman1

Glad it's helping Ed...........sounds like the plant growth was indeed going into the berries and can now go into building a stronger plant.

RM

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:45AM
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capoman(5a)

Good to hear it Ed. I know it's a hard thing to strip a plant, even though you know it needs it for the future.

On Riverman's comment, I agree that pruning in summer is sometimes feasible, but not normally done.

Here's the deal. Pruning in winter is best as that is after a plant has maximized it's photosynthetic capability which means that the roots also got maximum nutrition. Pruning in winter means that the roots will be in a much better position to supply a lower load during flowering and leaf out. This helps the plant a lot, and will spur new growth.

Pruning in summer reduces the current photosynthetic capability, which will reduce the root system as well. This will have the effect of stunting the plant as the roots will be less prepared to support the new growth and flowers the next spring. This is ok if a plant is getting too large, and you want to reduce it's size overall.

To maintain maximum growth and potential though, leave everything on in the summer, and trim back in winter. Obviously, removing berries redirects energy to stems and leaves. Berries are an energy sink. Pushing new leaves out is an exponential gain, since the more leaves, the more available energy to push out more stems and leaves, and so on.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 10:44AM
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luke_oh(zone 5 NE Ohio)

I'm glad that I checked this post. I have 40 3 year old plants Blue Crop and Blue Ray. Thet are loaded with berries but few leaves. Grandkids are coming this weekend so they will have a fun project, stripping berries.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 10:33AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Just wanted to update the progress of the bare blueberry branches. Here's the same plant 7 weeks later. Hard to tell which branches were bare. The few berries we left on matured nicely. The berries turned blue 3 weeks ago and were kinda sour, but we left them on as long as possible trying to increase the sugar content. Had to pick them yesterday because they were just starting to get soft.....but man were they sweet! Made a big batch of blueberry pancakes full of berries, and almost didn't need any topping they were so sweet. But, of course a little butter and syrup went on anyway.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 12:22PM
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riverman1

Looks good now........

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 2:45PM
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riverman1

That swimming pool looks good too!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 11:35PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Riverman thanks. The knowledge, and the willingness of the members to help others, is awesome. Gives me a lot of confidence and peace of mind.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 8:10AM
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capoman(5a)

Glad our advice worked out for you. One of my plants, a Bluecrop which grew well last year, produced lots of berries this year, but very little foliage and almost zero growth. Since I have other plants that more then doubled in size this year and should bear well next year, I will remove all flowers from that Bluecrop and expect that it will grow vegetatively next year. This is something you can do at any time in a blueberries life to spur new growth. On most blueberries, you can spur growth also by pruning canes, but in the case of my Bluecrop, it is tall with few canes and branches, this is the best method to get it to bush out.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:17AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Yeah, I couldn't believe how fast new growth showed up after 80% of the berries were removed. I'd say in a few days I could already see leaf buds appearing. Without the berries draining the plants energy, it immediately pushed new growth. Definitely going to make sure it gets the appropriate chill this winter.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:19PM
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blueboy1977(TX9A/B)

Your plant looks much better! Did you prune off any fruit buds on this plant before it woke up?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:08PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

blueboy1977, no pruning of fruit buds before it woke up. Wintering-over in the garage it woke up very early due to our warm winter. Next year I will know from experience to prune some buds if the same thing happens. Hopefully it won't if I give it more chill hours.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 8:10AM
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blueboy1977(TX9A/B)

I dont know how alike NHB and SHB are but we have some varieties of SHB like Misty that require fruit bud thinning to leaf out correctly regardless of chill hours.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 11:45AM
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capoman(5a)

Blueboy, you are correct, as a lot of highbushes also tend to overbear. Pruning back canes has the same effect, but in the case of a blueberry that doesn't have enough canes to prune, then removing flowers is appropriate.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 1:31PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

OK. Good to know. Knowing that, I'm more inclined to just let them overwinter in the garage again. At least next I won't have to remove as many fruit buds. Maybe 50%.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 9:01PM
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