Periodic prescribed burns of lowbush blueberry barrens promote high yield, aid in weed control, and reduce fungal and insect damage. Whether such prescribed fires should be set in the autumn or the spring has been a matter of some dispute. Previous research on Vaccinium angustifolium Aiton suggested some advantages to autumnal burning, but few data have been collected on V. myrtilloides Michaux. To evaluate whether time of burning affected plant qualities most favorable for mechanical harvesting, such as stem length and lateral branching, a series of experiments was conducted on V. myrtilloides. Differences in stem length, numbers of lateral branches, and buds per stem were nonsignificant among plants burned in fall vs. those burned in spring. In three of four experiments, however, fall burns resulted in the growth of fewer lateral branches. Furthermore, among the four experiments, growth responses were more uniform following fall than following spring burns. We therefore suggest that, where possible, fall burns should be prescribed for blueberry plants that will be mechanically harvested.
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