Pruning a Blueberry Bush for Big, Bountiful Harvests

Pruning a Blueberry Bush for Big, Bountiful Harvests

Pruning a blueberry bush isn't tricky, but it's a little more strategic than lopping a few branches here and there. With the right timing and technique, proper blueberry bush pruning can help your plant grow stronger and produce more vigorously. Learn the ins and outs of blueberry pruning for a healthy plant and a productive harvest year after year.

Benefits of Pruning a Blueberry Bush

According to the University of Maine, a well-maintained blueberry bush can live more than 50 years, so it's worth spending a little time with your shears each year.

While the overall objective is productive, healthy blueberry plants, pruning offers different benefits throughout your plants' lives. For young shrubs, pruning helps promote future growth by directing plants' energy toward developing strong roots and healthy branches.

In established plants, pruning helps increase how much fruit the plant produces. By removing poorly performing branches, you make way for new, healthy ones to take their place. Neglected blueberry bushes will eventually become riddled with dead or spindly branches that not only fail to produce but also block light and air circulation, inhibiting healthy, abundant growth. Pruning also maintains the plant's appropriate size and shape and helps keep diseases and infestations at bay.

When and How Often to Prune a Blueberry Bush

Pruning a blueberry bush should be part of your blueberry growing and care routine. Prune your blueberry bush annually to help keep production high and fast-growing canes under control. The best time to prune is in late winter or early spring when the shrub is still dormant. Avoid pruning during the active growing season, which can cost you precious berries and place undue stress on the plant. Avoid fall pruning, too. Because blueberries bloom the following year on existing wood, you don't want to inadvertently remove next season's prime berry-growing real estate.

How to Select Canes for Pruning

Focus on removing canes that are:

  • Dead

  • Weak

  • Thin

  • Sparse

  • Damaged by animals, insects or disease

  • Touching or growing close to the ground

How to Prune a Blueberry Bush

Your pruning approach will vary depending on your plant's age. Regardless, use sanitized pruning shears or loppers for neat cuts that heal quickly and reduce the risk of damage from insects, diseases or fungi.

Years 2 to 5

Once your plant is old enough to bear fruit, your goal is to help it achieve its mature size while maintaining its optimal health. Focus on removing any dead, weak or underperforming twigs or branches, but barring any issues like a disease, you won't need to do a significant cutback during this time.

Year 6 and Beyond

Congratulations! You've successfully nurtured your blueberry bush to its adult size. Now, it'll need a bit more support to keep producing at its peak. Over time, older branches become "leggy" and grow less fruit. To keep your berry patch fresh and healthy, remove roughly 20% of the oldest, weakest canes, including any that are dead or diseased each year. This way, you'll effectively have all-new canes every five years. While it may seem like that much cutting is harming your plant, pruning can actually extend your blueberry plant's lifespan, according to the NC State Extension.

If it's been a while since you pruned your blueberry bush, don't stress — you can give it a good rejuvenating prune. Start by cutting away dead or weak canes, then move to any shoots touching or close to the ground. In future years, you can get back to regular pruning.

Blueberry bush pruning is an essential part of your berry care routine. Set aside time each year to ensure only the best branches remain, and you'll be rewarded with a healthier, more productive plant.

Pruning is just one way to boost your berry production. Learn more ways to achieve a productive blueberry harvest.

Written by Derek Carwood, Greenwood Horticulture

Derek Carwood, a native of Northern California, currently resides in the Upper Midwest and has been involved in horticulture for over 30 years.  Derek holds a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Sciences and a Master's Degree in Sustainability Education & Policy.  He has been heavily involved in education throughout his professional career and has volunteered and worked across the Americas, Europe, and Asia.  Most recently, Derek started Greenwood Horticulture focusing on both indoor and outdoor horticultural consultation, education, and design.

September 28, 2022
©2023 W.Atlee Burpee & Co