Blueberry Pruning Experiments


Last year we had a great blueberry crop as hopefully many of you remember who came out for upick blueberries. :)  Interestingly though the variety we have the most plants of, Patriot, had a terrible year. Patriot was my favorite and our most productive variety for the first 4 to 5 years we were open for upick. Unfortunately, the last few years have been kind of a dud for Patriot and, as you might imagine, I've been wondering what happened?!?

Last August after our upick blueberry season ended, our family went to Duluth for a few days. While there, I stopped by my friend Nathan's blueberry farm, Sweetland Farm, near Cloquet. Since they are quite a bit north of us, their blueberry season was still in full swing. Their plants are younger than ours and while walking through their field I noticed their Patriot plants looked like ours used to look, loaded with big berries! It was particularly striking how much younger the canes of their plants were (shown by a lighter color, less woody) than our plants. I thought we had been doing a good job pruning out the older canes of our Patriot plants, but after seeing Nathan's plants I started to wonder - do we have too many old canes?

Fast forward to our blueberry pruning time this week and we are taking out ALL of the old canes in our Patriot rows. In general old blueberry canes are less productive than young canes. That's why we prune. My working theory is that Patriot canes though are more sensitive to age than some of our other varieties and that old Patriot canes are WAY less productive than younger canes. The first picture above is of a Patriot blueberry plant before pruning and the second picture is after pruning. You can see all the big woody canes with lichen have been removed and how dramatically different the plant looks. The picture below shows me holding all the canes I cut from the plant show in the pictures above. I've taken out well over HALF the bush! We will be doing this on around 1,000 Patriot plants over the next couple weeks. I admit that I'm a bit nervous about this strategy (and that it feels extreme), but I also know that doing the same thing we had been doing wasn't working. I think (and hope) that the young canes will produce the big Patriot blueberries from a few years ago now that the older canes have been taken out. Even though it's hard, you have to take risks sometimes to learn and grow.