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How To Harvest Blueberries for Optimal Sweetness

How To Harvest Blueberries for Optimal Sweetness
Home » Grow Your Own Food » Growing Berries » How To Harvest Blueberries for Optimal Sweetness

Wondering whether your first blueberry harvest is ready to pick yet? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about harvesting blueberries for the sweetest fruit.

It makes a huge difference in sweetness to pay attention to color, firmness and how easily they come off the branch, as blueberries do not ripen further once harvested.

Blueberries being harvested from a bush into a hand.
Picking blueberries when perfectly ripe

Jump to:   When Are Blueberries Ripe? | How To Tell When Blueberries Are Ripe |Blueberry Harvesting Tips

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When Are Blueberries Ripe?

When the blueberries on your bush are ready to pick depends on factors like the climate where you live and the variety you’re growing, but you can usually assume “roughly” the following:

  • Early blueberries: May-June
  • Mid-season blueberries: July-August
  • Late blueberries: As late as September

Not all the berries on a shrub will be ready to pick at the same time. You can usually pick roughly 1⁄3 of the blueberries on a bush with their first flush, the second 1/3 a week later and the last 1/3 another week later.

If you stagger your different varieties to include early, mid, and late season varieties you should be able to get a 6-7 week harvest. This is true whether you are growing them in the ground or growing them in pots on a deck or balcony.

This chart on ripening times of various blueberry varieties can give you a good idea of what to expect for a harvest season.

Tip: Use the fact that not all blueberry bushes ripen at the same time to stretch the season by planting at least three different shrubs: one early variety, one mid-season one, and one late one.

Keys to Determine Blueberry Ripeness

A ripe blueberry is plump, has a powdery layer (called ‘bloom’) and is an even, blue in color from the top to the blossom end.

It should be nice and firm, but not soft, and come off the bush almost by itself. I use my thumb to gently flick it off the plant and into the bucket.

Size doesn’t really play into it, since size can vary quite a bit between different cultivars. Your best indication is color!

The color stages that the berries go through can vary between cultivars, but it’ll generally follow these stages (see illustrations below):

  • Pale green
  • Reddish purple
  • Dark purple at the bottom, reddish at the top: nearly there!
  • Fully dark blue with a powdery layer: ready to pick.
  • Extremely dark, soft and wrinkly: you waited too long.
Blueberries in an unripe stage, showing some green ones and some that are slightly purple.
1st Stage: blueberries starting to turn from green to purple
Blueberries on a plant that are not quite ripe and still in the purple stage.
2nd Stage: turning from purple to blue, but not quite ripe
Ripe blueberries in a hand, showing the color blue from top to bottom of berries.
3rd Stage: Blueberries are blue from top to blossom end

When trying to figure out whether your berries are ready to pick, pay special attention to the the blossom end, where it connects to the stem. If there’s still any hint of red or purple there, just wait a little longer. You’ll get an pretty tart blueberry if you pick it while the blossom end is still purple.

Tip: There are a select few exceptions to the color rule. Specifically, pink blueberry cultivars like ‘Pink Lemonade’ and ‘Pink Popcorn’ are ripe when the berries are evenly bright pink.

Blueberry Harvesting Tips

How To Pick Blueberries

Because blueberries are a soft fruit, you should be gentle while picking them. Ripe ones will come off the bush with minimal pressure, so don’t rip them off! This can damage the berry, which causes it to spoil much quicker.

(Disclaimer: if you do “accidentally” damage a blueberry, you’ll have no choice but to eat it right away to prevent spoilage. Those are the rules!)

Commercial blueberry farms use harvesting machines, which is faster but also less accurate. The handheld harvester below is a small scale version of what the commercial blueberry farms use. As you can see, there are a lot of unripe purple berries in the hopper, which means those will be quite tart.

Harvesting blueberries with a small hand harvester tool.
Harvesting blueberries with a small harvesting tool.
Blueberries in the hopper of a small harvesting tool.
Blueberries in the hopper of a small harvesting tool (note purple berries mixed in with blue)

At home, just pick them by hand: it allows you to select the ones that are perfectly ripe, so you don’t end up with sour ones in the mix. This is also why the hand-picked blueberries you get at the farmers’ market are so much better than machine-picked supermarket ones.

For some ideas of what to do with all of those sweet blueberries, check out these sweet and savory blueberry recipes for fresh or frozen blueberries.

Preventing Bird Damage to Blueberry Plants

The birds in your garden know exactly how to tell when blueberries are ripe. They tend to start flocking to them as soon as they start turning purple, sometimes stripping a shrub bare before you can even have a taste.

When it comes to dealing with birds, it’s a choice between setting up some netting once the bushes start blooming (which can be a bit of a hassle) or just deciding to share with them.

Installing some bird deterrents may also help, but unfortunately, most bird are smart enough to figure those out quite quickly.

You could try growing blueberries in pots and then keeping them close to the house where you have a better chance to keep the birds at bay.

If you have to pick the berries before they are completely ripe (to avoid bird damage), here are a few things you can do with unripe blueberries to at least salvage part of the crop.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do blueberries continue to ripen after picking?

If your berries are still pale green in color, leave them on the plant. They won’t turn blue after picking. If they’re already almost ripe, they may darken a bit after being picked, but it’s realy best to wait until the perfect time for the best result.

Are unripe blueberries poisonous?

Nope, but they’re really not very nice to eat unless you cook them. The flavor is mouth-puckeringly tart.

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Lin, Y., Huang, G., Zhang, Q., Wang, Y., Dia, V. P., & Meng, X. (2020). Ripening affects the physicochemical properties, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities of two blueberry cultivars. Postharvest Biology and Technology162, 111097.

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