University of Maryland Extension

Pruning Blueberries

Prune back 50% to 60% of the wood immediately after planting. Remove all flowers from two-year-old plants to encourage root growth and ensure good establishment. Do not fertilize at this time. Pruning invigorates the plant, forcing essential new growth from the base of the plant. The guiding principle behind blueberry pruning is to constantly renew the older, decreasingly productive canes by cutting them out to force new canes. This is known as renewal pruning and is also done with grapes, peaches, and currants. Pruning will also increase fruit size and improve quality.

Growing seasons 2-5

Plants may need light pruning in February or March. Remove a few of the small branches or twigs in the center of the bush. Fruit is produced on wood grown the previous season, and the largest berries are produced on moderately vigorous wood (branches 12- to 18-inches in length). All weak growth should be removed (see figure below).

Four-year-old blueberry bush

Pruned 4 year old blueberry shrub
(Left) Before pruning; (Right) After pruning.  Pruning reduced the fruit buds by about 75%.  In very fertile soils a larger number of fruit buds might be left for a heavier crop.

At maturity (6 years and older)

A healthy plant should be 5- to 7-feet tall and produce 3 to 5 new canes several feet tall yearly. Each spring, select the best two to three new canes to retain and remove some of the oldest canes. (Canes over 1 in. in diameter do not produce the best fruit.) When you fail to remove older branches, the new canes are likely to be willowy and produce only a few berries at the top. Pruning will result in a plant with 12 to 18 canes of varying ages. This is an optimal scenario; many plants will deviate from this ideal.  

Also, remove the lowest branches and thin out branches in the center. The lower branches bear fruit that is dirty and difficult to pick; the center branches produce small, poorly colored and late-ripening fruit. Overly long canes with many flower buds may be headed back, but do not try to top canes to stimulate growth.

Video - University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service - How to Prune Blueberries

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