I am going to plant a few blueberries this spring. The original plan was to plant 6 bushes - 2 rows with 3 plants each. Two plants (one from each raw) will eventually benefit from the autumn olive, which is already planted just north of the planned blueberries. And I was going to underplant with clover, and plant a few comfreys and bush beans around.
But now I hesitate. Maybe I should plant the blueberries further than I originally planned (8 ft between rows and 5-6 ft between plants in the same row) and plant comfrey in between the plants? Or should I plant perennial nitrogen-fixers instead (our soils are very poor in nutrients)? Which companions will benefit the blueberries most? Which will like the acid soil? Which will look better? I don't want to plant anything taller than the blueberries themselves in that area.
I've had decent results simply planting annual vegetables in and around young.blueberries....especially vigorous, running groundcovers like winter squash and sweet potatoes (don't know if either of those are adapted to Idaho!). Especially while the blueberry plants are young, they will hugely benefit from the attention and irrigation given to primarily benefit the annuals. And, at least in the South, blueberries don't mind a little shade....it just delays the ripening a bit compared to those places in the full sun....I would just plant whatever for soil benefit and plan to, if necessary, coppice or remove it later depending on the blueberries' preferences......
Strawberries are a super good companion for blueberry's. They keep weeds down, hold moisture, build biomass, produce berries and they like the same soil PH.
Location: North Idaho, zone 5a
posted 6 years ago
Alder, it's a good idea about annual vegetables, especially while the blueberries are still small. The vegetables will get all the sun they need, and blueberry will get all the attention. But sweet potatoes don't like it here.
Brandon, keeping the berries together also sounds great. For some reason I imagined wild or alpine strawberries!
One thing I see is that 7 acres of blueberries is a lot to plant in one area. I would include some acid loving fruit and nut trees (or at least acid tolerant) and nitrogen fixing trees (probably autumn olive) would be good. I might even add every 20th plant to be gogi or some other berry plant. I always recommend some trees as they help the water cycle and the overall ecosystem. The point of diversity is that blueberries (or any single crop) take specific things from the soil. The chemical approach is to do soil analyses and replace those elements. Permaculture uses diversity so as not to strip them in the first place. A living ecosystem is a whole and cannot be sustained over time with piecemeal additions. Pests and fungi are the result of an impaired ecosystem. If you add at least 10 other crops and I would add 20 you have the chance of not depleting and even better enhancing the soil.
One way to find out how interplants work in your situation is to use all the crops mentioned in Andrew Schreiber post, especially good because they are acid loving. See if you can research some more. After finding all the plants that might work, especially medicinal herbs, I would check what you can net from sales as well as ease of marketing and be sure and check how they are harvested to see if you need equipment etc. Then I would plant 20 of those to see where the blueberries do best. I do not believe that there are specific companion plants for blueberries, but more that there are soils, climates, etc where certain plants work better. What works for you might not work even for your neighbor, even from one part of a field to another. Once you decide on blueberries and trees (my choices are usually on what sells and what feeds the soil, meaning for the water cycle, tap roots are good) then let nature make the final choice. And of course add lavender and clover into the mix. You might ask what you would look for after all these plants start growing: How large do the blueberry and companion plants grow? Is there a size differential in the blueberries.? As I see it, bigger is not always better. Is there insect, fungus damage to any of the plants. There will be very little of this damage with good companion planting. Pull up some soil and check for friability. Smell the soil. See if the top soil is deepening with some of the plants. Plant size is also determined by water. Notice if there are some plants where the water is pooling more than others. Sometimes pooling water is good for the plants (not usually blueberries) and sometimes not. When companion plants are working, the plants require less water, just as they require less water when there is a lot of organic matter in the soil.
If you can find an amazing plant person who is growing blueberries, I would follow them around. When I was learning about apples my biodynamic consultant recommended to me an orchardist who was growing 300 acres chemically. He did not use spray routines. He went out and looked at the plants and taught me what the plants could tolerate. He taught me to look, smell know the plants from the inside. He sprayed when the plants could no longer tolerate that level of pests. He paid only 1/3 of the money for sprays if he had used the spray programs. He did not put on fertilizers as the extension said either. He noticed more pests when he pushed the trees to hard. This was in New England where there was no irrigation, but he did notice that in a wet year, the trees would grow faster and there were more pests. According to Bhasker Save (A Vision of Natural Farming), the Ghandi of Indian agriculture, too much water is a way to push the plants and we pay for this with pests and fungus. Everywhere there are always farmers who “listen” to their plants and I cannot recommend highly enough that we can learn from them. As my friend Carol Deppe says humans have been farming for 10,000 years and we do not need to reinvent the wheel. The other thing that happened with my mentor is when I planted an organic orchard, he came and helped. Then he went back to his orchard and immediately applied integrated pest management to his orchards. These folks are good and I do not recommend telling them what to do when you see a better way, but they will ask eventually.
I have sorrel growing around my blueberries at the moment and it works well. Any of the docks would grow in the damp soil as well. I also have perennial basil that seems to be quite happy next to my blueberries.
I'm glad you asked this question, because I have been looking into this as well. One thing I read about strawberries and blueberries is that they have similar root systems, so it may not be wise to plant the two together. I did see a lot of cranberries, as well as potatoes, being planted with the blueberries. But, I love the idea of the annual vegetables, bravo!
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Depending on your likes/wants/needs, here's a couple suggestions from what I'm planning:
Dewberries - they tend to like the more acid soil as well and can act as a loose-knit groundcover. If you're not familiar with them, they're similar to raspberries or blackberries in appearance but vine/runner out rather than stand upright in canes. They do have thorns. The berries look like a smaller blackberry when ripe but taste quite different - less sweet, more refreshing and a little bit tart We get them wild all over the New England area but I'm sure they could be grown pretty much anywhere zones 3 to 7 given the right soil conditions.
Bunchberries - also likes that acid soil and is excellent source of pectin for jams. They're not that tasty themselves, and sort of mealy, but a good handful of these guys replaces a packet of fruit pectin from the grocery store
Strawberries - don't plant them directly under/around the blueberries, but the same vicinity should be fine.
Wood/Sheep Sorrel - delicious lemony flavored miracles of the acid soils
Lowbush Blueberries - if you have a lot of space around/between your blueberries, grab up some small low-bush type blueberries. I've seen huge clots of lowbush growing in a 1/2" thick mat of decaying pine needles on a boulder before, producing dozens of berries per plant. The lowbush varieties are more "wild" so need VERY little pampering compared to their bigger, cultivated siblings and might help introduce more genetic diversity as well.
Location: North Idaho, zone 5a
posted 4 years ago
I ended up planting only 4 blueberries in that spot last spring. All were doing quite well, and grew noticeably during the summer. I added soil from the forest, and mulched them with Douglas Fir needles. Pretty soon I had some wood sorrel growing in between the mulch. I also planted clover on the path between the plants, though it was not doing as well as in other areas.
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