How and When to Prune Mature Blueberry Bushes

Poochella(7 WA)July 6, 2006

With any luck at all, we will be able to harvest at least a few berries from about 6 blueberry bushes this year. Each year the birds or deer or bears beat us to them despite use of flash tape, deer spray, and a guard dog of sorts.

The bushes are mixed: some about 5 years old and others more like 20+ yrs old but they are getting too tall and flopping over adjacent plants which need sun, not blueberry bush umbrellas.

When is the best time and how aggressive can I be about pruning these bushes? Almost all of them are sending out new growth from near the base/trunk. Are there general guidelines on how much or what % to cut back in any one year? Do I cut out a few old canes severely or just prune them all equally?

Any help will be appreciated.

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hemnancy(z8 PNW)

Sunset Western Garden Book recommends removing some older canes each year. As for your deer, bird, and flopping problems, what does it for me is to surround each plant with a 4' tall welded wire circle, and if needed a bird net can be put over that. I don't know what a bear would do with that, fortunately I don't have that problem.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 5:44PM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yeah, if bears are coming to the bushes you need something pretty solid. They break into cars to get at the contents of coolers, which they are able to recognize as a viable target amidst assorted other luggage.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 6:22PM
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Some of the largest wholesale growers of blueberries are local to the PNW, so there is a lot of good information available on growing these small fruits here. The following OSU-WSU link may help with pruning details, but other than netting the berries to keep the birds harvesting them first to a minimum, I don't have any good suggestions for other wildlife deterrents. I'm still dealing with my raccoon issue - I don't even want to think about the possibility of bears rampaging through my garden :-))

Here is a link that might be useful: pruning blueberries

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 11:31AM
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Poochella(7 WA)

Thank you all, especially for the link. The neighbors are keeping the bears at bay with cleverly placed decoys of full garbage cans 600 ft from the berries. I wonder how long it will take them to figure out to store the cans inside something vs cleaning up a pile of trashed trash every few days? (It only took us one garbage raid.)

I like the idea of the sturdy wire wraps/surrounds, not so much for protection but from flopping down so much. I have a fair crop of nice blueberries, but last year I said the same thing, went down to pick them and nearly every single one had disappeared. Mad? oh yeah, I was mad. I looked for shoeprints, pawprints in the soil CSI style! Guess the birds had a late evening snack.

Thanks again, I'll give it pruning a try this winter.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 2:15PM
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charleney(8a PNW)

How about an electric fence?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 3:25PM
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drfugawe(z8 OR)

I have to share this wildly successful idea for keeping birds off fruiting trees/bushes - This year our 5 year old sour cherry tree produced its first large crop of cherries, and I feared I'd never see a ripe cherry as they ripened. In an attempt to re-create the effect of the "big-eye" mylar balloon, I took 9" throwaway alum pie pans and made 3" black eyes on each side with magic marker. I hung these up about 6/7' on short strings off a T separator, and let them dangle in the wind. They would also make a lot of noise as they clanged together, and my wife came close to nixing them because of the noise, but I told her to pretend she was in Tibet. I was amazed at the result - for the next two weeks, absolutely NO birds ventured into my back yard!

I picked every single ripe cherry during that time, until at last I took the pans down (didn't want to encourage the first brave robin to ruin the effect and open the flood gates). The day after I took the pans down, every remaining cherry was gone.

I probably won't stop using my bird netting over the blueberries though, because it also deters the deer, which don't seem too interested in cherries. But who knows, maybe the deer don't like the "big-eyes" either!

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 11:17AM
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Poochella(7 WA)

drfugawe, that sounds like a very useful technique! I have a couple pie pans at the ready. The sound might drive me nuts for a while too, but for blueberries, I'll risk temporary insanity.

One question: what is a T Separator?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 5:46PM
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drfugawe(z8 OR)

By "T Separator", I was just trying to describe a 3' length of "anything" used to separate the two pans at the top of the pole.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 9:01AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

We hung old CD's on fishing line over our blueberries when we had them, this kept the birds away. Pruning, took out crossed branches and dead wood.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 11:55AM
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I was just given some 30-35 year old, never pruned, blueberry bushes. They are est 5'+ in height, quite bushy at top, with stalks or stems of 1"+, probably 10-12 stems per plant. After they are "stablized" in their new home, I will obviously need to severly prune them. My question is can the root ball be split so that I could get two plants out of each root ball (the root balls are huge)? Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 8:27PM
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