How to Harvest Perfectly Ripe Blueberries

I can’t think of anything more delightful than fresh picked blueberries.

And If I’m being honest, I become so excited for fresh berries each summer that I have a hard time waiting for them to fully ripen.

While it may be tempting to pick them as soon as they appear, exercising restraint until the time is right will result in bigger, more flavorful berries.

A close up vertical image of a wicker basket set on the ground filled with freshly harvested blueberries with a shrub in the background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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Read on to learn how to harvest perfectly ripe blueberries.

There isn’t much to harvesting blueberries. In my opinion, the wait is by far the most challenging part!

Patience Is Key

It takes two or three years from planting time before a shrub is mature enough to produce a full crop.

A close up horizontal image of a wicker basket filled with freshly picked berries set on the ground in the garden.

For the first season after planting, pluck off the flowers as they appear. This will encourage the plant to concentrate its energy on growth and root development.

During the second season, you can harvest the fruits sparingly, but it is still a good idea to pick off at least half of the flowers to promote growth.

A close up horizontal image of two hands holding freshly picked berries in the home garden.

By the third season, leave all the flowers on the shrub and enjoy a full harvest!

While it may be tough to wait so long for the first full harvest, you will be rewarded with healthier, more robust plants, and thus larger yields down the road.

Plant Multiples

It is advisable to plant more than one shrub to improve yields and extend the harvest season.

While some cultivars are self-fertile, cross pollination will encourage a much bigger crop of larger berries. Choose two different varieties with similar bloom times for best results.

If you have the space for more than two, I recommend planting a couple each of early, midseason, and late season varieties. This way, you will have fresh fruit available for much longer each summer!

For tips on selecting cultivars, check out this article on top blueberry varieties for home harvests.

Harvesting

I know it may be tempting, but try to restrain yourself from picking the fruit too early in the season.

For the juiciest, sweetest berries, wait until they turn deep blue in color, and look plump and full.

A close up horizontal image of a cluster of blueberries ready to harvest pictured on a soft focus background.

Depending on where you live, and the cultivars that you have planted, this can happen any time from late May through mid-August.

Pink blueberries, such ‘Pink Lemonade’ which is available from Nature Hills Nursery, will be firm, deep pink in color, and taste sweet when ripe, typically in mid to late summer.

A close up square image of ripe Vaccinium 'Pink Lemonade' berries ready to be picked.

‘Pink Lemonade’

If you pick ones that still have a tinge of red or purple, they will continue to ripen off the shrub, though they will not become any sweeter.

So if you don’t like sour berries, it is best to wait until they are completely blue before harvesting. Fruits that are still green or white will not continue to ripen once picked.

This can be tricky to do if you have birds or other animals feeding on your crop. Read our guide on protecting your berries from birds for more details.

There are no special tricks to harvesting. With a basket at the ready, gently roll each berry off the stem with your fingers.

A close up horizontal image of a hand from the left of the frame holding a handful of berries out of a white bucket.

When ripe, they can be picked easily without resistance. Collect all the fruits that you don’t “taste test” first.

I always try to restrain myself from eating them all immediately, but it’s not an easy task!

Preserving

Eat the berries right away (my preferred method) or you can refrigerate them in an open container for about a week.

Refrigerated, they will keep longer if you wait until just before eating to wash them.

A close up horizontal image of a hand from the top of the frame inspecting ripe fruits in a small plastic container.

They can also easily be frozen or dried for later use.

To freeze, gently wash under cool running water and then let them sit a strainer or colander until they are completely dry.

Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet, making sure no berries are touching, and place in the freezer.

A close up horizontal image of two plastic bags filled with frozen fruits set on a wooden surface.

Once they are completely frozen, after a few hours, transfer to an airtight freezer-safe bag or container. These will keep for one to two years.

My family eats frozen blueberries almost daily in smoothes or our morning oatmeal.

A close up horizontal image of two glasses of freshly made smoothies with fruits scattered around them.
Photo by Meghan Yager.

I particularly love this deliciously creamy berry date smoothie on our sister site, Foodal.

You can also dry the fruit by baking it in an oven set to the lowest temperature for three hours, or in a dehydrator set on low for 18 hours.

A close up horizontal image of a wooden plate set on a slate filled with dried fresh blueberries pictured on a soft focus background.

Fully dried, they will be shrunken and crisp with a stronger flavor. Store in a cupboard in an airtight container for up to six months.

Not sure what to do with dried blueberries? You can add them to homemade trail mix for an energizing snack, or I like to bake them into bread and muffins.

A close up horizontal image of a freshly baked loaf of bread on a cooling rack.
Photo by Kelli McGrane.

This recipe for whole wheat pecan bread with dried blueberries, also from Foodal, is a delicious way to make use of homegrown dried fruits!

So Juicy and Sweet

Harvesting blueberries is incredibly easy, and by following the simple tips above you can enjoy a harvest that is bigger, juicier, and sweeter than ever!

A close up horizontal image of two hands from the bottom of the frame picking blueberries off the bush in light sunshine.

What are your tricks to harvesting perfect blueberries? Share your tips in the comments below!

And if you want to learn more about growing blueberries, check out these guides next:

About Heather Buckner

Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!

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