Blueberry plants can be expensive to buy at the nursery, but it’s easy enough to become your own nursery once you have a few established plants. Propagating blueberries from cuttings has a high success rate, and doesn’t require expensive equipment.
With just a bit of patience, you can establish a huge blueberry patch for a fraction of the cost of buying nursery potted plants.
When we found our off-grid homestead, blueberries were one of the first things we planted. The problem is, we’re serious blueberry lovers and we wanted to put in 50+ plants. Looking at the price tag at the nursery, that wasn’t happening. We quickly realized that if we wanted a huge blueberry patch, we’d have to propagate the plants ourselves.
When propagating blueberries, all you really need is access to hardwood cuttings. If you have one healthy, vigorous blueberry plant in your back yard, that’s enough to propagate dozens of new plants within a few years.
Though blueberries are technically self-fertile, they produce better crops of larger fruit with cross-pollination, so propagating from at least two different varieties will get better results in the end. Asking a friend for cuttings from their established patch is another way to spread the blueberry goodness too.
Choosing Blueberry Varieties for Propagation
Choose varieties that grow well in your area, taking into account your hardiness zone and the availability of chill hours. Obviously, the best source for cuttings is a healthy vigorous plant already thriving in your neighborhood. That said, if you’re hoping to buy a few nurseries varieties and propagate from there, do your research ahead of time.
Many blueberry varieties are only hardy down to zone 5, which won’t do us much good here in zone 4. Other varieties are more durable and are hardy to zone 3. If you’re in a cold zone, take a look at this list of cold hardy blueberry varieties.
Similarly, if you’re in a warm climate, choose a blueberry that requires fewer chill hours to bear fruit. Most blueberry varieties require at least 800-1000 “chill hours” to re-set their system so that they’re triggered to break dormancy in the spring and bear fruit. Without that, they may live but they won’t put out good crops. There are a few low chill blueberry varieties that require between 150 and 800 hours depending on the variety. Those include:
- South Moon
- Sunshine Blue
If you’re trying to grow blueberries in very warm climates, read this primer on low chill blueberries from the University of California Extension.
How to Propagate Blueberries from Cuttings
Start by taking cuttings from first-year wood during the dormant season. In Vermont where winters are long, blueberries are dormant from November to April most years. The dormant season will be considerably shorter in more southern locations, just be sure to collect cuttings after the plants have gone completely dormant in the fall or early wither and before the plants have broken bud in the spring.
Young first-year wood works best for this, blueberry plants don’t propagate as easily from older woody cuttings. Our plants are still quite young, and we’re working with very thing cuttings. In an ideal world, take 6” long cuttings from cuttings first-year shoots that are about 1/4 inch in diameter, or the thickness of a pencil.
So long as the cuttings are placed in consistently moist (but not soggy) growing medium, they generally root on their own without issue. Burry the cuttings about 2 inches deep, or 1/3 of their total length. Place them in a sheltered location indoors for the remainder of the winter to help protect them from frost damage. Alternately, in milder climates, you can prepare a nursery bed outdoors and simply plant the hardwood cuttings directly into the nursery bed until they take root.
It takes about 3-4 months for blueberry cuttings to develop healthy vigorous roots. At that point, you have a young plant that can be tended in a pot or nursery bed for another year until it’s bigger, or planted directly out into a permanent location.
Though blueberries don’t strictly require rooting hormone to stimulate root production, I like to dip them anyway. I keep a small jar of powdered rooting hormone on hand for propagating cuttings of other perennials that are more reluctant to root, such as cornelian cherries and honeyberries. Since I generally propagate plants in one big batch in the winter months, everything gets a dip, which helps stimulate faster root growth and improves success rates all around.
Propagating Blueberries from Softwood Cuttings
Blueberries can also be propagated from softwood cuttings during the growing season. While propagating from hardwood cuttings is relatively simple and straightforward, softwood cuttings require substantially more care. When the blueberry plants are actively growing, they at much greater risk of drying out and dying before they set out roots.
If you do try to propagate blueberries from softwood cuttings, be sure to select young growing tips that are still supple and not woody. Take cuttings in the late spring or early summer, and take smaller cuttings about 4 inches instead of 6 for hardwood cuttings. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting, and plant them in moist potting soil about halfway up their length (2” deep).
Keep the softwood cuttings out of direct sunlight, and in a very humid environment for the next 2 months until they’ve started to develop roots. To help ensure humidity, growers often invest in a misting system to keep the plants from dying before they take root.
For my time and effort, it’s much easier to plan ahead and stick with hardwood cuttings for blueberry propagation.
Caring for Home Propagated Blueberry Plants
Once your blueberry cuttings are healthy and rooted, you can treat them just like any blueberry plant. You’re effectively your own nursery now. Most nurseries begin selling blueberry plants when they’re 2 years old so that they’ve put on enough growth to look respectable in a pot. Those 2nd-year plants sell for about $30 each here. After that, prices go up dramatically and 3 to 5-year-old potted blueberry plants can sell for as much as $100 each.
With a bit of patience, you can turn a few blueberry twigs into your own homegrown blueberry bushes. All it takes is the willingness to wait an extra year or two, and you can save a bundle while setting up a huge blueberry patch.