December 16, 2012

Maine Gardener: Plants will reward careful pruners with better berries and grapes


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TO SEE a video of David Handley, a small-fruit specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, teach about pruning, go to and click on the one for pruning raspberries or blueberries.

FOR PAMPHLETS, go to and type what you are looking for in the search box.

BLUEBERRIES are in the rhododendron family and produce berries on 1-year-old wood that grows from stems that are 1 to 6 years old.

"You want to have six to 12 canes coming from the ground on each blueberry bush," Handley said.

You cut out the oldest, largest ones when you prune.

"You want the canes to be 1 to 6 years old, not any older. You want to keep the plant in a state of constant adolescence," Handley said.

After you cut the old shoots from the base, you cut the weaker new shoots, saving only a few new ones.

Then you move to the top. You will notice some larger buds that will produce fruit in the coming year, and smaller buds that will produce vegetative matter. You keep the longest, strongest buds, with a good mix of larger fruiting buds and smaller vegetative buds.

If, like me, you have ignored your high-bush blueberries, you can renovate them. If you cut the entire bush right to the ground, it will resprout, creating a new, vigorous bush in three or four years.

If you want to continue getting berries, cut about a third of the bush out each year for three years, until it is back in bounds.

GRAPES are more complicated, and it depends on the kind of grapes you are growing. But for the Concord-style grapes, you want to use a support called a four-arm kniffin.

You create a trellis with poles placed horizontally at 21/2 and 5 feet high, grow the grape vine up in the center, and have 1-year-old branches going out in both directions on each level. You leave two buds on each side to create the next year's vine.

After harvest, you remove the vine that produced the grapes, and pick one of the vines on each side for the next year's fruit.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:


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