The kindest cut

The kindest cut

Judging from the many congested and unproductive blueberry bushes I see, it seems that the pruning message hasnt got through. A mature blueberry can produce 10kg of fruit each year, but most backyard bushes dont give nearly as much. In part, this is because the blueberry needs constant pruning to encourage new flowering stems.

While the plant is bare of leaves, we have a good opportunity to get in there with the secateurs and loppers . There are three types of growth to look for; first, new green shoots rising from the base. These will have flower buds at the tips. Next, last years shoots, which are browner and have produced several lateral twigs, also with flower buds at the tips. The last kind is the old stems, grey and woody at the base and with lots of fine twiggy growth. If you look carefully at these stems, you will see that they carry few of the fat flower buds. These are the ones to cut out.

If you have a very congested bush, you might be nervous about knocking off the flower buds (which might already be out in warmer gardens). In that case, tie some coloured wool around the stems that need to come out now, while you can see them clearly, and cut them later after the fruit has been harvested.

Give your blueberry a treat with pelleted chicken manure and a good watering, followed by mulching with decomposed pine needles or leaf mould if you have it. This will set the plant up for spring growth. If the new leaves are a bit yellowish when they unfurl, its likely that the soil isnt acid enough. Blueberries like pH 4.5 to 5.5, so use sulphur to acidify it if necessary, and look for an acidic mulch like those mentioned above.

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