You can follow moments of my homesteading “journey” if you click the “Journal 2019” tab at the top of this page. Even if you’ve subscribed here, my updating that page isn’t going to send you automatic e-mail updates. So… if you get the chance, just look over there now and then!
The field my house is situated on has a gentle slope down to the south, which rolls a bit deeper in two locations. I put my house on the first one, so I could enjoy the benefits of a walk-out basement. The second one leads on down to another spot, which friends and I have named Blueberry Grove. Here there are something like seven or eight highbush blueberry trees or shrubs — I definitely think of the tallest one (which I’ve named Grandfather Blueberry), as a tree, as it stands well over 11 feet and could well be taller than that. (When DOES a shrub become a tree, after all???)
The ground back here is the last to lose snow in spring, and the ground during wet seasons is on the mushier side. As I set up to type this, a rather large deer was strolling around back there (and I do see frequent deer scat in the location).
Grandfather Blueberry stands next to a very nice bushy pine, which reminds me I really should pull out one of the nature books to determine what type that pine is. When I first bought this property, there were several spectacular specimens of paper birch surrounding the field, of which (after a severe ice storm followed by wind) few remain – but those that did are in the relative protection of the edges of Blueberry Grove. Behind the grove is the tree line, followed quickly by one of those old New England stone walls, e demarks my property line.
The blueberries clearly predate my tenure here. This was farmland once, and the field has intermittent ancient apples at the peripheries, clearly once planted. The old farmer may well have planted these, or they may have cropped up, wild. Blueberries are after all a native species.
The Northern Highbush Blueberry
The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), is native to east Canada, the eastern US as far south as upper Florida and eastern Texas – which surprises me. It’s considered a shrub but can grow (they say) as tall as 12 feet. It is pretty certain that Native Americans cultivated them. It does not self pollinate, so I am indeed glad I have more than one. It loves moist and acidic soils. (Some of the info in this paragraph came from Wikipedia; some I already knew.)
Pruning the Blueberries
I decided to prune two of the highbush blueberries not at the moment surrounded by snow. One would be Grandfather Blueberry. Obviously, I’m not reaching up 11 feet for the job, but the upper reaches looked pretty vibrant. (The rest are still surrounded by snow and I didn’t want to put tools or camera down in that; plus the day was fading towards dusk.)
I’d pruned them once in the past, several years prior to building the home. Before that — they’d probably not been pruned in ages. Every year they still bear fruit, but they could do a better job if pruned on a regular basis. (Although I was living here last year, my knee was still unsteady enough, and the snow lasted even longer, that I decided not to do it.)
Prune in spring – if you live further south, you certainly should do this in March. Being officially in Zone 5B – although I think my microclime is a shade colder than that – early April works. You want to prune before things leaf out. For one thing, visibility as to what you want to cut away will be a lot better!
First, get an overview of what the general health of the bush is. New twigs will be a reddish hue, old dead twigs will be gray. Old canes/thick branches will also be gray but follow them out to their ends and see how they branch into new life. Or if not.
For thin twigs, use a sharp pruner. Cut either at the base of the branching, as close as possible, or if you aren’t removing the whole twig, just after a new leaf bud.
For thick branches, evaluate. Sometimes central ones will be smothered out by side branches, so you may want to make an effort to remove those, even if there appears to be good new growth above on them. It will in part depend on what those other branches are doing. You do want to promote air circulation in your blueberries. Also, something running away from the base of the tree, with suckers growing up… decided that had to go, too.
Oh, and yes… since I had the camera out with me, I really had to shoot the chickens. They free-ranged while I pruned, but then on my way back to the house, I put them to bed, and…
By the way, I’m not pruning as extensively as one can prune them. Generally, they can take quite a hit. Also, I’m saving most of the cuttings to see how they behave in a grill smoker later this summer.
PS, the other Be Fruit-Full post, about citrus, stone fruit (currently apples and plums on the horizon), figs, elderberries and persimmon) has also just been posted. That one deals more with what I am working on and have made plans to cultivate, rather than a strict “How To”. That should come once I’m further established!
Cyndi Lopper and Prunella invite you to check out the link parties at:
- The Homestead Blog Hop
- Fiesta Friday Co-hosted with Fiesta Friday’s wonderful Angie, by: Ai @ Ai Made It For You