Blueberry bush

Proper care of a blueberry bush during the winter can lead to a healthier bush in the spring.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, Pacific Northwest Gardeners can log into Zoom and learn all about the basics of blueberry care. From when to prune to how much, the Washington State Master Gardeners will teach locals everything they need to know to ensure healthy and productive blueberry plants. “The more pruning you do, the better blueberries you will get,” WSU Master Gardener John Moore said.

According to Moore, it is best to prune blueberry plants in the late Winter, usually around January and February. Pruning the plants too early could damage them as they could re-grow before the first frost. If you prune them too late, you could damage the plant as it isn’t as hardy when it’s not dormant for winter. Moore also said that it is important to wait for the first budding before pruning and stick to pruning in late winter. Waiting for the bud is important because it allows you to see where the berries will grow in the next harvest. “When it is dormant, it can handle the pruning because you need to prune blueberries significantly,” Moore said. “You will typically take out 25 to 50 percent of the plant each year. The more pruning you do, the better blueberries you will get.”

Moore explained that taking out a hefty part of the plant is good for the process because blueberry plants can only take in a certain amount of nutrients and if the plant has too many branches, the berries will be smaller and of a worse quality.

Yearly pruning of blueberries isn’t the only thing imperative to their long term health. According to Moore, blueberries require a highly acidic soil to ensure their long term productivity and growth and should always be planted in the later winter while they are dormant as the extra time allows the plant to establish a root system before the heat arrives. As for the acidic soil, Moore recommends all gardeners get a soil test where they want to plant their blueberry bushes. According to Moore, getting the soil professionally tested will give gardeners vital information about the soil like its exact pH level and how to lower it to blueberry level. In partnership with acidic soil, Moore said blueberries need to be planted in a place where they get enough sun and moisture for growth.

Along with making sure you have the correct soil to plant the bush in, Moore said it is important to pick the right variety for what you want. Some blueberry bushes don’t produce a lot of fruit but work great for landscaping because of their flowers and colors. Other bushes don’t grow well in the Pacific Northwest at all. According to Moore, if you want to have a plentiful blueberry harvest for homemade jams and more, gardeners should look into plants of the Northern HighBush Variety. If you’re just looking to landscape and make the yard look pretty, try looking into northeastern blueberry cultivars.

After choosing the right plant for your needs, Moore said planters looking for bountiful harvests will need to wait a couple of years for the berries to be perfect. In the first two years of growth, Moore and the Master Gardeners recommend picking off all the blueberry blossoms so the plant has time to establish a healthy root system. In the third year, pick off around half of the blossoms. By year four, it’s all you can eat. 

Holding the blueberry seminar on Zoom isn’t perfect and Moore said he is looking forward to being able to host the workshops at the organizations blueberry farm after health restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are eased. Moore said the gardeners are heeding the guidance of the WSU Master Gardener Foundation and Washington State health officials about returning to in person events. 

Despite holding the workshops in a digital way online, Moore said community interest is up and educational meetings held by the Master Gardener Foundation have seen an increase in attendance. “More people are certainly getting involved,” Moore said, mentioning that people being home during the pandemic could be a factor for the increased participation.”Our answer clinic has been really busy this year.” 

 

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