When to stop pinching new growth on Blueberry Plants

blueboy1977(TX9A/B)September 2, 2012

Ive been trying to slow down my plants all summer by pinching off the tops of new growth about every 8 inches or so. There have been some plants that I havent keep up with to this point though and would like to cut back some length on the branches because they are getting floppy. Last year I cut them back in Sept and they had enough time to harden off by winter time. So in zone 9(South Houston) what would be the latest that you would pinch new growth. Im thinking late Sept/early Oct. Any thoughts???

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I find pinching the branches confusing too. Much of the literature says to not pinch them at all for the first three or four years but like you my plants get so lanky that something needs to be done to keep them from tipping over when loaded with berries.

As for timing, since it's so late in the year you could just wait until the plants go dormant to clip them back.

Maybe they don't go dormant where you are at?


    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 11:04PM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

Looking back at some of fruitnut's photos shows that he ties some of them up with string. Brady

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 11:26PM
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I tied them up this morning. I'm going to cut them back this winter I guess. These are first year plants anyway and I probably shouldn't let them fruit much next spring. I will leave a few buds so I can taste some of the new varieties I got. Thanks for advice.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 8:22AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


I don't like to pinch them much. I'm not sure my way is right but the way I do it is to allow the plant to grow as it wants but if it gets top heavy it gets staked for that first year. Even if the plant puts up a 5 foot tall non branched bull shoot I don't touch it. After the bush fruits and is done is when I shape the plant and I will cut that bull shoot back to the height I want it to branch at. For me it seems to give me thicker stronger canes. Pinching gives more branchiness but at the expense of the heavy young canes.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 9:22AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Good thread. I wanted to see a few responses before I chimed in. I'm just learning about this stuff. I recently, about a month ago, shared a few photos of a couple of my container blueberries with the commercial farmer I bought them from. She agreed with bamboo rabbit about pruning after harvest. Also looking at my pictures she suggested cutting back (pinching) a few of the longer branches to spur new growth and increase the bud set for next year before dormancy. So I did pinch a few branches and bull shoots. Actually wish I would have done it about 2 weeks sooner. Some branches were almost 3 feet long, and a good breeze was snapping them off anyway. Since I move my containers around alot, it gets kinda tough when there are branches hanging all over the place. I'll probably prune/pinch a little different next year. Like I said I'm a novice and just learning.....and having fun doing it!!

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 10:58AM
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Right on Bam. I remember seeing some of your photos last year and I remember a sweet crisp bull shoot you had that was close to six ft and I was wondering why you didn't cut it back. Now I know!

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 3:55PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


I think fruitnut thought I was nuts for leaving those bull canes to get so high:) If those bulls don't branch they get big and thick so after harvest when you do prune them they respond by giving you big thick branches. It just seems to work better. But I want my fruit up high away from the multitude of ducks and chickens. People that grow in containers like Fruitnut prefer their plants to be bushier and fruit lower.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 4:19PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

OK, I can take a hint. Looks like I won't be pruning any more bull shoots until after harvest.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 6:13PM
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Lol, Ed you can do how you want. Bam lets them get high cause of the yard pimps he has. Not all shoots are bull shoots either. Some are very skinny and week. Those are the ones that like to floop every where. I like to pinch mine that are in pots. In my raised beds I tend to let the shoots get up to about 3 or 4 ft then I tip them. To each his own. I dont think there is really a wrong way to do it. Its all about how you want your plants to grow. I like my potted plants alittle shorter and bushy so they dont blow over in the wind. Raised beds I dont worry about, there not going to blow over.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 6:24PM
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I shortened a good number of 3' long shoots on my plants today. I have noticed that it's better to prune them lower than higher on the branch. On those I did higher earlier this spring, the branch is still quite long before it splits at the cut point and I'm concerned that once loaded with berries it will want to tip over. I'm hoping that by cutting the branches a bit closer to the base, lower on the plant, that the branches will be a bit more stout and capable of handling the berries next spring. It's a learning process.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 6:48PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Blueboy, yeah you're right. Last year I let a bull shoot get too long, and it ended up a foot higher than anything else and branched out there and it looks kinda weird. This year I snipped a bull shoot at the point where a bush need some filling in. Since mine are in containers, and a foot or more off the ground to start anyway, I need to keep the fruit within reach. Shorter is better. They get tons of sun, but also can get tons of wind too, which also lends itself to the more compact stature. This is only my second year growing them. Last year I had 2, this year 7. Definitely a learning process.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 8:13PM
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Very good to see this question. Its one that we've been answering for 20 years or so now.
YES pinching out is a great way to provide shape to your bush
YES pinching out will increase your crop the following year from that specific branch by up to 400%
YES you should stop before the wood starts to harden.
Normally we pinch out from late June. Only on canes that are getting taller than the overall bush. These will then branch from the cut during July and August. and the fruit buds that would previously only formed on that once cane, will now form on all the new branches.
Each cane will normally only be pinched once.We will stop pinching in early August.
We have grown blueberries commercially in the UK since 1959, aswell as tending young plants for our mail order business, so we've tested every method possible. Summer pinching definetly works!
I hope that helps

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 11:15AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I'll throw my 2 cents in with dorsetblueberry, stop pinching early enough that fruit buds can set on the resulting shoots. For my operation with a very long growing season I think that's about now. I'll probably pinch a little more but would rather the plants quit growing and set fruit buds. So I'm not pushing new growth at this time, ie the nitrogen has been cut way back.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 12:11PM
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Dorsetblueberry, I sure wish you would post more often. Its nice to have input from as many experienced growers as possible on these plants. They can get pretty tricky at times!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 3:13PM
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If I have a long cane on a young bush, I bend it down to the ground and put a rock about eight inches from the end, maybe scratching the bark a bit at the bend location. Then I put a little dirt and mulch over the bend, leaving the end of the branch exposed to the sunlight. On a few occasions they have rooted over the next year or two. Other times they just turn upright and keep on growing without rooting. I figure any that roots gives me a free bush, and those that don't won't be sticking up too tall where it is hard to protect from the birds. This wouldn't work with potted plants, of course. Northwoodswis

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:20PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I guess my rule of thumb in the future will be....ok to pinch if resulting new growth has time to set fruit buds....and bull shoots will be evaluted on a case by case basis due to bamboo rabbit's comment about leaving bull shoots alone the first year which leads to heavier canes. Teriffic thread! BTW, just picked up half a yard of double ground pine bark today. Will be potting-up a couple of plants soon.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:49PM
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