How Long Does it Take For Blueberry Shrubs to Produce Fruit?
Blueberry bushes are well known for producing delicious berries during their fruiting season, but how long after planting should you see them start to produce fruit? In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen examines how long it takes for blueberry bushes to become fruit productive, and what you can expect.
Small, sweet, round, and blue, the blueberry is one of the most delicious fruits that you can grow. If you have a sunny spot available, you can grow your own blueberries in your yard, garden, and even as a landscaping hedge or in a container. You may be hoping that you can plant a blueberry in the spring and have fruits by summer, but unfortunately, it isn’t quite so simple.
Blueberry shrubs require some time and a little effort to get well-established. It then takes a little more time for them to start setting fruit. Once they’ve settled in and have matured in their new home, they will be productive, and your efforts will be well worth the wait!
In this article, we will take a deeper look at how long it really takes for a blueberry plant to start producing fruit once they’ve established. You’ll also learn why you should discourage your plant from fruiting in the first couple of years. Let’s dig in!
The Short Answer
Assuming you bought a potted plant from a nursery or garden center, it is possible for a blueberry bush to produce fruit in its first year. It may even have fruits on it when you purchased it. If possible, however, fruiting should be delayed until approximately the third year after planting. A plant may not reach full fruiting capacity until it’s closer to between 5 and 8 years old.
The Long Answer
Blueberries are an easy-to-grow fruiting shrub. They come in a variety of sizes and forms, from diminutive ground-hugging “lowbush” species to 10-foot tall “highbush” and “rabbiteye” giants. While different varieties are best adapted to different environmental conditions and climates, they all require the same basic care. Times from planting to first fruiting will also be similar across varieties.
The overall health of your plant will affect its ability to fruit. If you take the time to help your plant become well-established early on, you can actually increase fruit production in the following years.
You should plan to do some basic annual maintenance with your plant to help it stay healthy and fruiting. You should also understand some of the factors that affect plant health and fruit production.
Factors That Impact Fruit Production
Light – Blueberries thrive in full sun.
Soil – Soil should be well drained and rich in organic matter.
pH – Soil acidity should be between pH 4 and 5; do a soil test and amend as necessary.
Water – Plants require regular watering, soil should be moist but not wet.
Fertilizer – Light annual fertilizer applications once fruiting begins.
Weather – Weather and climate zone can affect fruit production.
“Chill hours” – Blueberries need a certain amount of cold each dormant season to fruit.
Pruning – Prune to maximize fruit production.
Young plants – Younger shrubs don’t fruit as much in the first few years.
Older plants – Maximum fruit production begins between years 5 and 7.
Plant health – Healthier plants make more fruit.
Variety or Cultivar – Different varieties will have slightly different fruiting patterns.
If you bought a potted blueberry plant, chances are it’s approximately 1 to 2 years old already. When you first plant your blueberry in the ground, it’s really important to encourage it to focus all of its energy on vegetative growth, not fruiting.
Before being allowed to fruit, the plant should develop a strong root system and strong, healthy branches. It is recommended that you prevent a plant from fruiting for the first 2 years after planting.
Here are some year-by-year guidelines to give you an idea when and how much you can expect your shrub to fruit. Keep in mind that there are many factors that affect fruiting. Some things you can control, like site preparation and pruning, and others you can’t control, like weather.
Each year, be sure to keep your plants watered and keep an eye on any pests that might appear, though most varieties tend to be fairly trouble-free. Mulch as needed around the base of your plants. Mulch helps protect the shallow roots from drying out, reduces weed competition, and helps protect roots from winter weather.
Year of Planting
Prep your planting spot and plant the shrub. You may be excited to eat blueberries right away, but patience is important here. Prune off any flower buds at planting. Producing fruit requires a lot of energy. By removing flower buds, you are telling your plant to focus its energy instead on growing strong roots and stems.
Years 1 and 2
In the first two winter dormant seasons after planting, again prune any flower buds. These first growing seasons should be years to focus on strong vegetative growth.
If you prevent your plant from fruiting for the first two years, you are encouraging it to become very well established. A well-established plant, with proper care and pruning, will ultimately become a more vigorous fruit producer.
Years 3 and 4
Continue to prune your plant each winter. Rather than pruning off all the flower buds, instead remove the weakest branches.
Prune the tiny twiggy stems, weak or rambling branches, and anything that looks like it’s dying or diseased. You can do some pretty heavy pruning each year, as a healthy plant will continue to grow vigorously and recover quickly. Leave the strongest and healthiest branches and their buds. These can be allowed to fruit.
Once your plants begin fruiting, you can start an annual application of light fertilizer. Don’t over-do the fertilizer, however, as they are sensitive to over-fertilization.
Year 5 and Beyond
Each dormant season, you should prune your plant. Remove the weakest branches, remove thin twiggy branches, and any long meandering crossover branches.
Remove dead and diseased branches. Leave the strongest and healthiest looking branches. By year 6 or 7, your plant should have reached its full fruiting potential.
The roots should be very well established by now. In times of drought, however, you should continue to keep your plants watered. Also continue to add some light fertilizer each year.
What varieties produces the most fruit?
Fruit production can vary widely from one plant to another, and from one cultivar to another. All blueberry plants can and will produce fruit. The answer really depends on where you live, and what varieties grow best in your climate. Just be sure to choose varieties that are best suited to your local climate and growing conditions, as these will be the most productive for you.
In what season do blueberries produce fruit?
Blueberries form flower buds in the late summer through fall. Buds overwinter on dormant plants. In the spring, flowers open and attract a variety of bees and other pollinators. A few months after flowering, fruits will ripen and be ready to pick. Fruiting timing varies by climate zone but most commonly from May through August. Fruiting also varies from one cultivar to another, so you can expand your picking season by planting more than one cultivar.
Although a blueberry plant is capable of producing fruits within its first two years, it’s best to encourage the plant to become well-established before fruiting. By the third year after planting, you can start enjoying your own home-grown blueberries.
For optimal fruit production:
- Choose a sunny spot.
- Take the time to prepare ideal soil conditions.
- Water regularly, fertilize as needed.
- Prune flower buds for the first two years.
- Allow fruiting in the third year, and beyond.
- Prune annually to maintain healthiest branches.
- Manage for pests and diseases.
- Mulch to protect roots.
By following these basic guidelines, your plant should thrive and you can enjoy an abundance of blueberries for years to come!