You look forward to blueberry season every year after much preparation. But when blueberries go missing or there are webs, holes, or chewed-up blueberry bush leaves, it’s time to figure out what is eating your crop.
The most common culprits responsible for eating blueberries are birds, deer, and a variety of insects and their larvae. Each pest can quickly damage or destroy your crop of blueberries, so it’s important to take action to solve the problem quickly.
So read on to find out exactly what is eating your blueberries and how to fix the problem.
Birds Love To Eat Blueberries
By far the most common wildlife to eat blueberries is birds. Without protection, birds can eat an entire crop of blueberries very quickly.
In order to protect bushes, some gardeners choose to try to scare the birds away but this is rarely effective. In our garden, we had a giant fake-horned owl. The birds would look right at the owl’s beady shiny eyes before diving right back into the berry bush. It didn’t scare them a bit!
Solution: Use Bird Netting for Blueberries
Bird netting like this one with ¼” to ½” openings offers the best protection for blueberries. The best method for securing the netting is to create a structure around the blueberry bushes to hold up the netting. The netting can be draped over the bushes and support structure. It should be secured to a wood base around the bottom perimeter of the blueberry bushes to prevent birds and other wildlife from accessing the bushes.
Simply draping the netting over the blueberry bushes without a structure can lead to the bushes getting tangled in the netting. In addition, birds can get trapped in the netting when they go up under it to get in the bush.
One other solution some gardeners use is to plant a mulberry tree near the blueberries. This works if the tree is fruiting at the same times as the blueberries. It provides abundant mulberries for the birds and they are less interested in the blueberry bushes.
Other Wildlife Eat Blueberries Too!
In addition to birds, deer, rabbits, foxes, bears, squirrels, skunks, mice, opossums, and chipmunks all enjoy eating blueberries as well. In order to protect your crop, it is best to focus on your biggest challenges to reduce the number of blueberries getting eaten.
Deer or Bears
Blueberries being eaten by deer should be surrounded by a fence that is at least 6 feet tall and ideally 8 feet tall. Deer can jump over shorter fences. Bears will usually leave blueberries alone if they are blocked by a fence.
Rabbits, Foxes, Skunks, and Opossums
Build a frame around your blueberries and attach chicken wire and a door to prevent these animals from eating your blueberries.
Squirrels, Chipmunks and Mice
Because these rodents are so small, it will be difficult to keep them out of the blueberries with simple barrier methods. Many commercial farmers will use a combination of barriers, traps, and cats or dogs to catch these critters.
Managing Insect Pests
Managing insect pests is often done through a combination of netting, manually removing insects, organic insecticides, and companion plants.
Blueberry companion plants include marigolds and nasturtiums as well as herbs like oregano, thyme, and rosemary among others. These can be planted around or near blueberries and used in combination with other plant management methods.
Insect Pests that Eat Blueberries
Blueberry aphids are often a pale yellow-green color and are found clustered on the underside of young leaves at the base of the plant.
Gardens should be monitored to see if the aphid population is limited or increasing. Insecticidal soap can be used. In addition, there are many companion plants that will repel aphids from blueberries. Try one or a combination of companion plants identified above.
Blueberry Bud Mites
Identification: These mites are microscopic and cannot be identified by looking for the mites themselves. Instead, telltale signs of an infestation include blisters on red bud scales in the spring, flowers or blueberry fruits that are misshapen, small leaves and fruit and only having a few blueberries per cluster.
Solution: Managing this pest can be very challenging. Options for management include trimming back blueberry bushes after harvest and spraying with neem oil in the spring to reduce the mite population.
Blueberry Flea Beetles
Identification: Damage appears as tiny holes in the blueberry bush leaves.
Solution: Spray blueberries with neem oil or use floating row covers.
Blueberry Gall Midges
Identification: Tiny 2-3mm flies common to all blueberries. Plant damage is usually first identified by black tips on some leaves that look like frost damage.
Solution: Parasitic wasps lay their eggs in the larvae of Blueberry Gall Midges. As they grow and develop the midges are destroyed.
Identification: These worms are a cherry pink color with brown heads. The damage to the blueberries looks like a tiny hole near the stem. They suck the berry dry leaving a withered berry.
Solution: Keep plants free of weeds and overgrowth. Apply an organic insecticide with pyrethrins like this one. This should only be applied in the evening and preferably around petal fall to avoid hurting bees who might otherwise be pollinating the flowers.
Identification: Japanese beetles don’t try to hide. They are usually on top of the blueberry bush in the full sun climbing all over each. The blueberries look like something has been chewing on them.
Solution: The beetles can be physically removed. Neem oil can be applied as a repellent. And organic insecticides like this one may be applied to get rid of Japanese beetles.
Identification: Root weevils look a bit like strong sturdy beetles with a rougher black or brown speckled body. They lay their eggs in the soil. When their larvae emerge, they will often feed off the root crown or trunk. This reduces the vitality of the plant. Damage at ground level may be obvious on the trunk of the blueberry bush.
Solution: To manage weevils, weeds around the bushes should be trimmed to reduce food sources for the insects. In addition, an organic insecticide may be applied.
Studies done with beneficial nematodes like these ones have shown it to reduce the numbers of black vine weevil larvae. It has to be applied when the soil is warm enough for nematode survival in the spring or summer.
Identification: Scale insects often appear as small woody bumps that look like they are part of the leaf, stem or trunk.
Solution: The best strategy is to consistently prune old dead or dying canes from the blueberry bush. I do this annually usually in February or early March in zone 6 when the plant is completely dormant.
In addition, an organic dormant oil spray may be applied while the plant is dormant to further reduce the population of scale insects.
Spotted Wing Drosophila
Identification: The Spotted Wing Drosophila (officially called Drosophila Suzukii) is a 2–3 mm fruit fly with red eyes, an abdomen with black stripes, and a pale brown thorax. The males have a distinct black spot on the tip of each wing.
The damage to the fruit looks like tiny holes. They are susceptible from the time they turn green until they are fully ripe.
Solution: Because this insect is damaging the nearly ripened fruit directly, the application of insecticides (even organic ones) is not the first choice. Physical management can include removing dropped fruit, regularly picking fruit as it ripens, and netting bushes with a .98mm covering.
If an insecticide needs to be used, two organic ones are effective against SWD – Entrust and Pyganic.
Identification: Stink bugs have a brown, black, or greenish angular exoskeleton. They are larger than many other blueberry insect pests and will feed on blueberries at any stage of development.
Solution: The best strategy may be the simplest…physically removing them and dropping them in a bucket of soapy water. Our neighbor likes to gather these Japanese beetles and feeds them to our chickens when she is done. You can read about more natural techniques to get rid of stink bugs in our article: Natural Remedies To Remove Stink Bugs From Citrus Trees.