Pruning blueberries: when & how?


With a passion for growing installed at an early age, I have always been happiest outdoors in nature. After training as a professional gardener and horticultural therapist, I currently run horticultural therapy and community kitchen gardens in the UK, helping others access the many physical and mental health benefits of growing vegetables, fruit and plants.

Favourite fruit: apples and pears
Favourite vegetable: asparagus

To remain productive, blueberries need to be pruned regularly. Discover how to prune blueberry bushes for the best harvest.

Pruning a blueberry with secateurs
Pruning blueberries can encourage impressive yields and help maintain plant health [Photo: vladdon/]

Although an important commercial crop, you can also grow blueberries (Vaccinium) at home. Blueberries are similar to the bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) or wild blueberry as it is also known, which you can find growing wild in some areas of the United Kingdom. However, being more easily obtainable and with their larger fruits, blueberry varieties are more popular with home growers. Read on to find out the benefits of pruning blueberries and how to prune a blueberry bush for the best crop.

Do you prune blueberry bushes?

Pruning blueberry bushes is not strictly necessary, as when unpruned they still tend to produce a few fruits. However, pruning your blueberry will not only help keep it healthy but encourage higher yields come blueberry harvest time. Blueberry bushes produce berries on old wood and fruit best on wood that is 2 years old. Pruning your blueberry bush will not only stimulate new growth to fruit the following year but allow you to remove any dead or weak material, keep it to size and allow more light in to ripen the berries. Along with these benefits, if you spot any damaged or diseased material, pruning the affected stems out can also help prevent further spreading. Luckily, pruning blueberry bushes in pots uses the same method as pruning blueberries grown in the ground.

Ripe blueberries on a bush
Pruning blueberries stimulates new growth, which will fruit the following year [Photo: Valentyn Volkov/]

When to prune blueberries?

If you are wondering when to prune blueberries, generally the answer is anytime from early winter until early spring when the plants are dormant and the temperatures are above freezing. However, you may find it easier to prune your blueberry bush in February or early March when the new buds are visible. As an exception to these guidelines, you can prune out any dead or diseased material at any time of the year. As a slow-growing plant, young blueberries do not need pruning. Pruning blueberry bushes is generally only required 2 to 3 years after planting your blueberry in the ground or in a pot.

How to prune blueberries

When it comes to how to prune a blueberry bush, it is helpful to know the difference between the buds that appear on the branches in spring. Essentially, the thinner and smaller buds are the leaf buds and the fatter more rounded buds are those that will develop into the flowers and fruits. Hence, it is unsurprising that the aim of pruning blueberries is to keep the branches with fruiting buds.

Using a pair of sharp and sanitised secateurs, first cut away any dead or diseased growth. You can also prune out any branches that rub against each other to prevent wounds from forming and disease. If there are any low-growing branches, which are in danger of touching the soil, you can prune them back as well to an upward-facing bud.

Ripe blueberries ready to harvest
The best time to prune blueberries is from February to early March [Photo: azem/]

If you identify any weak or spindly stems that fruited the previous summer, you can reduce these back to thicker growth by making a cut just above an outward-facing bud.

On older blueberry bushes, remove up to a quarter of the oldest wood to stimulate new growth to appear at the base of the plant. To remove the old wood, cut the stems at ground level using a pair of loppers for any wood that is thicker than 10 to 15mm.

For neglected plants that have not been pruned for several years, you can rejuvenate them by hard pruning all the stems back to, or just above, ground level. However, even though hard pruning can encourage new growth to form, the blueberry plant will not produce any fruit for 2 to 3 years.

Blueberry pruning summary:

  • Prune established blueberry plants annually in February or March when the temperatures are above freezing
  • Remove any dead, diseased, low-growing or rubbing branches
  • Cut away any previously fruited spindly growth back to an upward-facing bud
  • On mature specimens, remove up to 20% of the oldest wood at the base of the plant

The darker and smaller fruiting bilberry rarely needs any pruning. Nevertheless, you can lightly prune a bilberry plant in late winter if required.

Tip: when pruning blueberry bushes, aim to produce a plant that consists of around one-third new wood, one-third prime wood and one-third older wood.

Sharpening a pair of secateurs
Using sharp and clean secateurs will help keep wounds neat and small and help prevent disease [Photo: Radovan1/]

Along with pruning blueberries, fertilising them can help encourage a good crop. Discover more about feeding blueberries in our separate article.