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For the last few years, Maria’s parents had been toying with the idea of moving from their home in western PA.  While they had lived in their house for almost 30  years, had raised their family there, and still had a lot of extended family in the area, all of the kids had since moved out and started their own lives in different parts of the northeast US leaving them with a pretty empty nest.  Eventually, the pull of their children and 5 grandkids that had been added to the mix drove them off of the mountains outside of Altoona, PA.  In March of 2014, they moved within 5 minutes of our house.  We had long imagined welcoming them into their new home with a great celebration, parades and fanfare.  However, as fate would have it, we instead ushered them into this new chapter in their life with a wonderful stomach virus, which we generously shared with everyone who came within breathing distance of us.  Despite that non-ideal beginning, we have truly loved every minute of having them closer to us, though we know that the move was tough for  them.

Among the things that were difficult for Maria’s parents to leave behind when they moved were 6 blueberry bushes that they had maintained in their backyard.  Passed down from Maria’s grandfather, these bushes had been in the family for more than 50 years.  After being in their yard for more than 15 years, they had only recently reached peak production.  The family had really enjoyed the pleasure of having gallons upon gallons of fresh blueberries in the summer and frozen surplus all winter long.  It seemed a crime that they would need to leave them behind, but we were struggling with finding ways to transport them safely across the state.  Maria’s uncle tends a commercial scale blueberry operation, and advised against trying to uproot the bushes entirely, as they could easily die upon transplant.  Ultimately, we ended up with the idea of propagating the bushes by taking “cuttings” (short branches of last year’s growth).  

Neither of us knew anything about propagating blueberries, but thanks to the internet, we found about 1,000 ways to do it.  I settled on one method that fit our system the best, though we did make some adaptations.  Luckily, their move date coincided well with the appropriate timing for taking cuttings with this method (late March), so on the night before they moved, I called Maria’s dad and asked him to grab me some twigs.  The next day, he delivered to us enough cuttings to start 18 blueberry bushes.  Here is what we tried.

  • Instead of using a 4′ x 8′ propagation bed recommended at the linked site, I instead opted for 18 individual 6″ plastic flower pots
  • We filled each pot with sterilized sphagnum peat moss (post-game note: make sure that you pre-wet peat moss.  I did not, and it is absolutely hydrophobic until it is fully wetted…added a couple hours of rework)
  • I cut the blueberry branches into lengths of ~4″-6″. selecting those that had the best buds
Blueberry cutting

Blueberry cutting

  • Each cutting was then inserted into the filled pots, leaving 2-4 buds and ~1-2″ of branch above the soil, being careful that the branch did not contact the bottom of the pot, and that the top of the buds did not extend beyond the top of the pot. 
  • Each pot was then covered in saran wrap, which was pulled taut and fastened with rubber bands
A mini blueberry greenhouse

A mini blueberry greenhouse

  • These pots were then put into seed trays, soaked with water, and placed into the greenhouse in early April.  They are watered every couple of days by adding water to the bottom of the seed trays, which is then taken up by the pots.
  • In mid-April, the pots were supplemented with a rooting stimulant.   While not exactly organic, it received very high ratings for success rate.  For such an important task, I was willing to make a compromise, knowing that there would be no residual of this treatment when the plants start producing in 3-5 years.
  • At the end of May, many of the plants had sprouted leaves, and a few even started a bud or two.  I checked some of the cuttings for roots, but the ones that I had checked didn’t show any signs of them yet.  At this point with the weather warming up, they were starting to get a little baked out in the greenhouse, so I moved them to the shaded area under our deck.
A hopeful sprout in mid-June

A hopeful sprout in mid-June

With any luck, we will get at least 8-10 plants from the original 18 cuttings, giving our kids (and hopefully many generations to come) the opportunity to enjoy blueberries from the same plants as their great-grandparents did.  Hopefully, there will even be enough surplus plants that we can give a few to Maria’s parents and siblings so that they too can carry on the family blueberry heritage.   If you have any additional tips for starting blueberries from cuttings, let us know!!!

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. I love blueberries! I’ll wait paitiently for the heirlooms! You guys are amazing. Where do you find the time.

    We are in Oregon now, and have totally enjoyed organic California fruit, vegetables and nuts, buying when we could from the locals. The cherries right now are amazing. Dave put a few pits in a pot but I highly doubt if anything will come of that.

    1. Awesome!! Glad to hear that your travels continue to go well out West. You might be surprised re: the cherry pits…we have any number of things popping up out of our compost pile from produce that we threw out months ago. My favorite was an avocado seed sprouting…it had absolutely no shot at survival in our climate (outdoors anyway), but I was amazed to see it sprout. One thing you can do is to put a bunch of seeds in the pot, so even if you get 5-10% germination, you can still get at least one or two sprouts. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!!

      Joe

  2. P.S. A week ago I happened to check on the blueberry bushes that provided the cuttings for the parents of these ones. My Dad planted them 40+ years ago. They all have fruit, and a couple are just loaded this year with berries. I had always heard that peak production only lasted a few years, but these bushes have always done well. To me, they are a legacy to my Dad who loved to grow things…..truly an heirloom!
    Pappy

    1. Nice…bummer that you had to leave a bumper crop behind this year, but I am really hopeful that our little experiment will work. If not, we may need to pay off the new owners of your house to harvest a few more clippings next year! I can only hope that 50 years from now, our kids and grandkids will still be fostering these bushes and passing along the family tradition. And, with any luck, by then they will be much better at it than I am!!!

  3. This is awesome! I hope the blueberries do well and you have the reminder of plants that were started by family years ago. I’ve also read it’s fairly easy to propagate raspberry bushes. We have a bunch that are around the edge of our property and I’d like to try propagating them to spread them out a bit. When do you think you’ll try to plan the blueberry bushes outside?

    1. We are probably going to put them in the ground in the spring of next year if we can get them to root out. I am planning on overwintering them in either the greenhouse or basement until then.

      You are right, wild raspberries are extremely easy to propagate. We have been transplanting them from around our property to one spot around our chicken run, and it has worked out really well. We have found it effective to do that in early spring, just digging up the root ball with as little disturbance as possible (a broadfork is really great for that, but a shovel works OK too) and replanting them wherever you want. Doing it now would probably work out OK too, though they may not fruit this year if you do. We have found them to be very hardy and have only lost 1 out of maybe 9-10 plants that we have tried it on. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

  4. […] We LOVE blueberries in our family!  In fact, our boys eat so many blueberries at a time that my grandmother often teases them that their noses are turning blue.  When they were younger, that would actually send them running to the bathroom mirror to see if their nose was in fact a crazy shade of blue!  I grew up picking blueberries every summer at my grandparents’ house and at my aunt and uncle’s blueberry farm.  I enjoy eating blueberries by the handful, as well as in everything from oatmeal and muffins to pies and yogurt.  The past few years, we have been lucky enough to receive cartons of blueberries each summer from my parents who had about ten blueberry bushes in their backyard and had more berries than they could eat.  Now that they have moved to be closer to us (well, closer to their grandkids, really…who are we kidding?) we are working on growing some cuttings from their old house into blueberry bushes of our own.  […]

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