How to Grow Blueberries from Cuttings
The sweet and sour taste of blueberries is everyone’s favorite. Especially, when they are picked fresh from one’s own plants, their excellence is at an optimum level.
They are not only tasty but are also extremely healthy being loaded with antioxidants and other vital nutrients. Growing blueberries of one’s own not only allows them to enjoy freshly picked blueberries but also the blueberry bushes add a great aesthetic appeal to their landscape.
Published: December 9, 2021.
How to Obtain Blueberry Plants?
Buying blueberry plants from a nursery can be expensive if one is longing for tasting these tiny nice-looking berries grown on their own plants. What’s the solution?
Yes, there is a solution – to grow blueberries from cuttings taken from a few established plants. Growing blueberries from cuttings doesn’t require expensive tools, so is cheap, and has a high success rate.
One can grow a significantly large blueberry patch of their own with cuttings with just a little patience for a fraction of the cost of buying blueberry plants at a nursery. All one needs for this is access to hardwood (or softwood) cuttings.
If one has just one healthy, vigorous blueberry plant in their backyard or has friends who have such plants in their backyards and can give them cuttings, one can propagate dozens of new blueberry plants just within a few years and enjoy their own blueberries to their heart’s content.
As such, blueberries are self-fertile. However, better crops with larger fruits can be achieved with cross-pollination. Therefore, it’s a good idea to propagate from at least 2 different varieties that will end up giving the best results.
What are Chill Hours?
Blueberries need a certain number of chill hours to produce fruit. This means that they need to be exposed to cold temperatures for a particular amount of time before they bear fruit.
For several varieties of blueberries, mild coastal climates, therefore, cannot provide the right conditions for fruiting. Hence one must select the right type of blueberry for their local climate for taking cuttings.
There are ‘low-chill’ varieties such as ‘Sunshine Blue’ and ‘Misty’ which grow well in USDA zones 5 to 10 where they can bear fruit with less than 300 chill hours.
If one chooses the variety that is not right for their local climate for taking cuttings, they may have beautiful plants but without any fruit.
There is a rather large number of blueberry varieties, differing in plant and fruit size, cold tolerance, etc. Picking the right one should be done according to personal preference and requirements.
Highbush Vs. Lowbush Blueberries
Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are basically of two types – highbush and lowbush. Hybrid blueberries are also available which come with qualities of these two types.
Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), as its name suggests, is a tall plant with some varieties attaining a height of even 6 to 8 feet. It’s a perennial, deciduous shrub that has showy red leaves in the spring which mature to blue-green.
In the fall, the leaves display fiery shades. Flowers are pink or white, produced in bunches at stem tips, and are followed by berries. The berries are larger and more abundant berries than the lowbush type, but their taste may be less sweet and intense.
In highbush blueberries, there are again 2 types – northern and southern. In the northern type, in which there are cultivars like ‘Patriot’, ‘Jersey’ and ‘Blueray’, perform best in zones 4 through 7, which have cold winters.
Southern highbush blueberries are hybrids between V. corymbosum and another species V. darrowii, and they perform best in a Mediterranean climate, up to hardiness zone 10. These plants don’t need winter chilling as the northern types do.
Southern highbush blueberries include cultivars like ‘Blue Ridge’, ‘O’Neal’, ‘Gulf Coast’, and ‘Cape Fear’.
Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) is a native plant of the colder regions of eastern North America.
It’s also known as wild blueberry and it doesn’t grow taller than 2 feet or may be even shorter depending upon climate and soil.
It tends to sprawl and bear small-sized, but exceptionally sweet blackish-blue berries in the summer. According to the University of Vermont Extension, lowbush blueberries are hardier than highbush blueberries and perform well in all soils, even in rocky types, poor soils, provided there’s good drainage.
They are hardy to the U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 7, but are not the right choice for a Mediterranean climate because they need winter chilling.
One will have to consider two other options while deciding which of the variety will perform best in their growing conditions and landscape requirements.
One of these is known as the half-high type. This combines the qualities of highbush and lowbush types.
It grows from 2 to 4 feet tall and includes varieties like ’Brunswick Maine’ (gets only a foot (0.5 meters) tall and spreads around 5 feet (1.5 m) across), St. Cloud’ (ripens 5 days before Northblue and needs a second variety for pollination), ‘Pink Popcorn’, Northland’, ‘Superior’, ‘Polaris’ (bears medium to large fruit that store beautifully and ripen a week before Northblue), ‘Northblue’ (bears nice dark, large berries) and ‘Chippewa’ (the largest of all half-high varieties and matures in late June).
These are hardy plants that perform well with some winter chilling. They’re ideal to grow in zone 3.
The other one is known as rabbiteye blueberry (V. ashei). It’s a perfect choice for Mediterranean-type warm climates.
Most of its cultivars are shorter than highbush forms and include ‘Climax’ and ‘Bonita’. They produce berries that ripen later in the summer than the berries of highbush types and have an excellent taste.
The grower has to consider varieties that grow well in their hardiness zone and the number of chill hours available. The very first criterion is that the plant from which one will take the cutting should be healthy and vigorous.
Several blueberry varieties are hardy only to zone 5 and won’t perform well in zone 4. Some others are hardier to zone 3. If the grower lives in a cold zone like zone 3, they should choose varieties that are cold-hardy.
On the other hand, growers living in a warm climate should choose a variety that requires fewer chill hours to produce fruit. Most varieties need at least 800-1000 ‘chill hours’ to reset their system to get a trigger to break dormancy in the spring and produce fruit. Without chill hours, they may remain alive but won’t produce good crops.
There are a few varieties that need only 150 to 800 chill hours, depending on the variety. These varieties are Sunshine Blue, Jewel, Misty, Emerald, Star, O'Neal, Jubilee, South Moon, etc.
Botanists have crossed and refined southern highbush cultivars (that need considerably less chill time than their northern counterparts) until the resulting plants could flourish even in a hot climate.
It’s a remarkable fact that it’s now possible to grow Vaccinium that bear fruit almost year-round. Varieties like O’Neal start fruiting in April, whereas in June/July growers can get fruit from ‘Climax’ and also for July/August, a new variety from New Zealand named ‘Maru’ has become available.
Patented Varieties – Exercise Caution
Growers should remember that some varieties of blueberries are patented and they cannot legally reproduce them without permission.
Increasing the Chances of Success
Before starting the growing process, if one collects the necessary equipment and prepares it, the process can be much faster and safer for the cuttings. The cutting blades should be sharp and sanitized so they will help minimize damage and the chances of infection in the cuttings.
The blades of one’s pruning shears should be sharpened and then soaked in a solution of 1 part bleach and 5 parts of water for half an hour. Then one should rinse the blades and let them air-dry on a paper towel.
One should also keep one-gallon nursery pots ready with drainage holes at their base since they work well for growing blueberries from cuttings. One should prepare one pot for each cutting. They should fill the pots with a moistened planting medium (options given below).
How to Grow Blueberries from Hardwood Cuttings
The grower should first take cuttings from first-year wood during the dormancy period. In northern parts of the country where winters are long, the dormancy period is mostly from November to April. In more southern areas, the dormancy period will be significantly shorter.
Growers should make sure to collect cuttings after the plants become completely dormant in the fall or early winter and before they break bud in the spring.
First-year young wood works perfectly well for propagation as blueberry plants don’t grow as easily from older wood cuttings.
Ideally, the grower should take 6” long cuttings from first-year shoots the diameter of which is around ¼” or as wide as a pencil. They should sever the cutting at a 45° angle with their sharp, sanitized pruning shears.
All blueberries require acidic, well-drained soil with high organic matter. The planting medium must retain moisture but should also permit necessary aeration.
Media consisting of various propagation combinations of coarse sand, perlite, peat moss, sawdust, and ground pine bark have proven good for blueberry propagation.
A good planting medium is a mixture of peat moss, ground pine bark, and coarse sand (1:1:1) or peat moss and perlite (1:1).
pH is critical for proper growth. It should be lower than 5. Grower is better off testing the planting medium before planting to know if they need any amendments.
If the pH is between 5 and 6.5, the grower should add sulfur to increase the acidity. If it’s higher than 6.5, growers should consider planting the cuttings in a raised bed where they can add soil of correct pH just at the beginning of planting.
The same is the case while planting the cuttings in containers. The planting medium should be of the correct pH.
Growers can regularly fertilize the plants with a formula rich in potassium and phosphorus, and mulch their plants to retain soil moisture. Fertilizing every year with magnesium is also important for blueberries.
After taking the cuttings, the grower should immediately pot them, one in each pot. As long as the grower places the cuttings in a consistently moist (but not wet) growing medium, they usually root well. The grower should bury the cuttings around 2 inches deep or 1/3rd of their total length.
Moisture is necessary for successful rooting. Hence the grower should keep the cuttings misted and the growing medium moist but not soppy.
The grower should place the planted cuttings in a bright but sheltered location indoors for the rest of the winter to help protect the plants from frost damage.
On the other hand, in milder climates, the grower can prepare a nursery bed outdoors and just plant the cuttings in the bed until they root.
It takes around 3-4 months for the cuttings to develop vigorous healthy roots. Once this happens, there is a young plant ready that can be moved in a pot or nursery bed for another year till it grows larger or planted in a permanent location.
Should Rooting Hormone be Used?
Actually, blueberries don’t need rooting hormone to induce root production. However, the grower can apply the hormone.
One can always keep some powdered rooting hormone at hand while propagating blueberry cuttings or other plants that are hard to root such as honeyberries or cornelian cherries.
Altogether dipping cuttings in the rooting hormone ensures faster root growth and enhances success rates.
Growing Blueberries from Softwood Cuttings
A grower can even propagate blueberries from softwood cuttings during the growing season.
However, softwood cuttings need significantly more care than hardwood cuttings. When the blueberry plants are growing actively, there is a much higher risk of their drying out and dying before they start rooting.
If a grower wants to try propagating blueberries from softwood cuttings, they should make sure to choose young growing tips that are still supple and not woody. They should collect such cuttings in the late spring or early summer.
The cuttings should be around 4 inches instead of 6 inches for hardwood cuttings. Growers should just make sure the base of the cuttings is slightly woody and the leaves at the tip are not very mature.
Very young shoots with newly unfurled, light green leaves as well as older stems with mature leaves should be avoided as both these have poor chances of rooting.
The grower should snip the cuttings at a 45° angle with their sharp and sanitized pruning shears. They should remove the leaves from the cutting’s bottom half.
Then they should plant them in moist potting soil with the leafless part below the soil surface and around halfway up their length (i.e. around 2” deep).
Planted softwood cuttings should be kept out of direct sunlight and in a very damp environment for around 2 months from planting until they start developing roots.
To ensure humidity, growers can use a misting system. This helps protect the plants from dying before rooting.
What if One Can’t Pot the Softwood Cuttings Immediately?
In that case, one should wrap the cuttings in a wet newspaper and place them inside a cooler. This will keep them fresh.
How to Take Care of Propagated Blueberry Cuttings
Once the blueberry cuttings are rooted and healthy, the grower can treat them just like any blueberry plant. Within around 2 years, the plants get enough growth to look decent in a pot.
The plants will need occasional watering and misting to keep them hydrated. A weekly application of a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half is also recommended.
The grower should keep the cuttings in their pots for a full season. After this, they can transplant them into 2-gallon nursery pots which they should fill with loamy soil with a pH between 5.0 and 5.5.
After transplanting, the grower should water the plants weekly and continue feeding them with a dilute fertilizer during the summer months.
Growers should place the blueberry cuttings in light shade until the next fall before moving them to a larger container or a permanent bed.
In the spring of the first two years of planting, the grower should remove all flower clusters to let the plants establish themselves properly.
Then in the third year, they should allow a few flower clusters to develop. Then they should wait until the fourth or fifth year of the plants to let plants produce a full crop of blueberries.
After this, a healthy vigorously growing plant can produce fruit for more than forty years.
Nurseries sell 2-year plants and older plants than that. But 3- to 5-year-old plants are sold at a dramatically higher price than 2-year old plants.
Blueberries need a rich, acidic soil with excellent drainage and good moisture retention. These conditions are not always available in the coastal environment that has sandy soil.
In less-than-ideal conditions, half-barrel containers and raised beds both provide good growing options.
Whether one chooses a container, a raised bed, or a garden bed, they should ensure it provides at least 6 hours of sun every day, sufficient space to accommodate the mature spread of the variety chosen, and rich, acidic soil.
Just with a little patience, one can create their own homegrown blueberry bushes. The grower should just be ready to wait an extra year or two, and they can set up a remarkably large blueberry patch and enjoy homegrown blueberries within a few years.