This farm had a lot of treasures when we bought it, among them a large hedge of blueberry bushes out behind the machinery shed. Unfortunately, while they were tall and full of very healthy leaves, they had stopped producing blueberries.
The blueberries had been planted sometime in the mid-1950s and since then had been trimmed minimally. When we bought the farm in 1993, they were between eight and ten feet tall and no longer blooming. We tried a well-known acidic fertilizer, and waited a year. Still no blooms. I did some reading and told Stan that they needed to be trimmed. He said okay, when he had time, but the first few years that they were ours to trim; he was busy building on to the barn. I was still working as a full time farmer’s assistant, working on my Masters degree and we were watching our first grandchild while his mother finished her teaching degree and started doing substitute teaching. The blueberries didn’t get trimmed.
It was probably 1999 before we did any serious work on the bushes. My research suggested that taking no more than a third of the plant each year, so Stan took the chainsaw out and cut out some of the biggest branches and trimmed the bushes up. We waited out the year patiently. Still no blueberries, but there were some new branches growing, so we waited a couple more years, with an occasional stab at getting some of the bigger branches off.
Finally, we decided that the take no more than a third rule wasn’t working with these horribly overgrown bushes. One day in spring, I heard the chainsaw out behind the shed and went to satisfy my curiosity. There was Stan, whacking the bushes down to 18 to 24 inches from the ground. It was a humongous mess, and it looked like we had a bunch of dead stumps; but within a week, there were little one leaf branches sprouting out all over the stumps and by the end of the season, they were a mass of healthy young branches. We waited another two years for berries, but the last few years, we have been picking more than enough for all the fresh berries we can eat and give to friends. I even supply the little birds with a good amount, but we will eventually be doing something about that, too.
This year, which I was hoping would be a big berry year, is not. We had a hard winter and some late frosts which have the number of berries down over last year. We also need to be thinking about some judicious trimming again this year, so as not to get too far behind again.
I wouldn’t recommend this radical whacking on any but the oldest most overgrown bushes, and after whacking, making sure the plants have properly acidic soil, adequate water and time to regrow is important. Blueberry bushes are actually quite forgiving and will give lovely fruit with minimal care and an occasional whack.
About Kathleen M. Tenpas
We have a grazing dairy of 55 cows in the rolling hills of western New York State where we raised two daughters who have now blessed us with four grandchildren. I have messy, jungly beds of old roses, (some real antiques left by former owners), perennials, wildflowers and lots and lots of not so ornamental grasses! I have a Masters degree in Creative Writing: Poetry from Antioch University. I am a photographer and fabric artist and I bake a mean loaf of bread.