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Insider Insights & Technical Tips

By Dane Castle, Fall Creek® Grower Support South Africa


This year has been a roller-coaster ride for many blueberry growers in South Africa – from new plantings to commercial expansions, it’s been non-stop. Not to mention the weather that served up its own set of challenges with record rainfall and abnormally cold winters. Right now, many of us are in the middle of harvesting, but with farming, we must always think ahead. So, let’s talk about prepping for the pruning of your plants.


Importance of Pruning

Pruning is important for maintaining the health, size, and shape of blueberry plants. It stimulates strong growth and improves fruit quality. Without regular pruning, blueberry bushes tend to produce more leaves than berries, and the berries produced are often small and found only on the outermost stems.


How to Prep Blueberry Pants for Pruning

Always follow best management practices before you undertake any kind of pruning action. Here are a few key factors to consider:

  • Decide on your prune date. Discuss this with your Fall Creek Grower Support for your specific region.

  • Remove all feeding of your plant two to three weeks before the prune date. You will only be irrigating with pH treated water.

  • At the same time, reduce the volume of irrigation before pruning. Use 10% less water volume per week.

By following these steps, you will greatly reduce the risk of any plant loss or stress.


Tips for Pruning Blueberry Plants

Effective pruning involves removing weak or crossing branches, opening up the center of the plant, and creating a balance of young, prime, and older growth. The ideal shape for a pruned blueberry bush is a wine goblet, which allows for better air circulation.

Different techniques are recommended depending on whether the blueberry variety has a spreading or upright growth habit. Vigorous varieties benefit from thinning out older canes, while weaker varieties require more detailed pruning to improve fruit quality.


Steps To Keep In Mind When Pruning Blueberry Plants:

  • Remove the horizontal, low branches completely. This is also known as your skirt.

  • Cut out thin and differentiated branches from the lower part of the center of the bush. This opens the structuring and allows light and airflow to reach the middle of the plant.

  • Beginning with the largest canes, locate a new shoot around 40 cm from the base. Cut back the rest of the cane.

  • Repeat this action with the other canes like this. They will be your larger, more lignified canes.

  • Tip the younger green shoots at 15 to 20 cm. These can be identified as this year’s growth.

  • Remove all the remaining thin, old, horizontal, and differentiated branches from the center.

  • Keep 5 to 8 canes, depending on the strength of the plant, that will form an open wine glass frame.
    Estimated time is approximately 3 minutes per bush.


Renewal Techniques

Older plants require renewal pruning to revitalize them and extend their productive period. This involves removing low-spreading branches, older canes, and thinning out shorter, thinner shoots. This type of pruning controls the crop load and increases fruit quality.


Pruning Young Plants

In the first 2-3 years, pruning should focus on removing damaged or rubbing canes to encourage strong new growth. Young plants should be pruned moderately heavy in the second year and should not bear more than a few clusters of fruit to avoid delaying their productive period.


Controlling Bush Height

Tall blueberry plants can be shortened by cutting back upright "bull shoots" to control height. This is part of regular pruning maintenance and helps in keeping the plant manageable and productive.


Tools for Pruning Blueberry Plants

Use clean, sharp pruning equipment to prevent the spread of disease. Hand pruners are suitable for most cuts, while loppers may be needed for older, larger branches. Pruning cuts should be flush to avoid leaving stubs, and the equipment should be disinfected before moving from one bush to another.



Do blueberry plants need pruning?

Yes, blueberry plants require annual pruning. It is essential for maintaining the plant's health and promoting fruit production. Pruning helps in removing dead or diseased wood, managing bush height, and ensuring better berry size and quality.


How to cut back dead twigs on my blueberry plant?

To remove dead twigs, use clean, sharp pruning tools. Identify the dead and diseased branches and cut them back to the point where healthy wood begins. Ensure that the cuts are clean and flush with the branch to avoid leaving stubs which can be entry points for disease. Disinfect your tools before and after pruning to prevent the spread of disease.


Ensure your team is correctly trained to ensure homogeneity of the field. If you wish to receive training by a specialist, please contact your local Grower Support Representative.


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