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Companion plants for blueberry bushes  RSS feed

 
Andy Johnson
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Hi I have 20 acres in Southwest Michigan that I am building into a farm. The area is prime blueberry country and I started off thinking I would do an organic blueberry farm. I currently have about 7 acres cleared with roughly 5000 baby bushing growing on it. I am looking for good companion crops that I can grow with the blueberries. The soil is sandy, well drained and has a PH of about 5 - 5.5. I need to keep it there for the Blueberries which will be my "primary" crop. The more I learn about permaculture the more I am interested in other options. I planted my bushes in rows every 4'. The rows are 9' apart. I mow along the bushes for weed suppression. I left the centers of the rows unmowed. I have a strong praying mantis population and I wanted to give them some place to live and some insects to eat. The praying mantis seem to be keeping Japanese beetle at bay. I am thinking about adding buckwheat for the center rows to give my bees some more food when the blueberries aren't flowering. I have a decent amount of clover but WAY too much grass. The grass is vicious and very hard to keep out of the bushes. Mulching has been a slow process and only moderately affective. Any suggestions for a way to "crowd" out the grass without hurting the bushes? They are about 2 - 3' fall. I am really looking for some good brain storming. Thanks to everyone in advance.
 
Leila Rich
steward
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Do you have running grass variety with a thick horizontal mass of roots, or clumping grass with fine roots that pulls as a single plant?
Both?
You can probably tell which one I hope you have!
It's reasonably easy to manage clumping, but running's something else...
 
Andy Johnson
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We have a few different types of grass. Some of it comes up as a whole plant easy enough when you pull it. Unfortunately I am dealing mostly with grass that is very hard to pull. Some sections have this grass where the blades kind of tubular. The grow very densly and really choke the bushes. The are hard to cut and almost impossible to dig out. Fortunately I only have about an acre with that kind. It's the wetter section. So I guess I would say I have the tougher "running" variety.
 
Tracy Lee
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Location: NW Arkansas
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I am also interested in companion plants for blueberries. Also in how should one intergrate hugulkulture in berry orchard?
 
M Foti
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Location: western n.c.
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oof... we have a VERY similar operation. some advice from a fella who wishes he could turn back the clock...

get VERY nice weedproofing fabric, the existing running grass we have is a CONSTANT nightmare and will be forever I'm afraid... we wasted so much money on inferior weed proofing fabric. If you think you figured out a good width for your fabric, GO WIDER... you won't be sorry you did. We finally settled on highway underlayment, it's thick, has great water transmission, pretty decent light blocking, and lasts for 20 years... I know what you're looking at cost-wise, but that's all that helped us and we still can't keep the grass beaten back from the holes the plants themselves are in... I started with 24 inch fabric width, it was no where near enough, now I have 36 inch fabric width and it is barely acceptable. After this high quality fabric is covered with mulch it works well, but mulch alone just wasn't doing it for us either, even up to 8-10 inches thick.

invest in a SUPER fuel efficient mower, I have a kubota L175 tractor for mowing with and it is truly astounding at the amount of fuel I save using it as opposed to a gasoline powered mower. Not to mention the toughness of real tractor equipment compared to even very high level lawn mowers is just no comparison at all... I have 2 finish mowers. One rear discharge and one side discharge, I mainly use the rear discharge, but every so often I'll use the side discharge for 2 weeks in a row and swap directions that I mow in, that does a pretty decent job of keeping the mulch layers where I would like them to be without having to do alot of crazy pitchfork out of a trailer work...

Keep beating that grass back and planting clover, keep at it... that's the stage we're in now, it is helping, but it's slow. Also, try bringing the whole pH of your field down to where the blueberries want to be, that will partially stunt the grass....


If I had it all to do over again, I would have plowed and turned the entire orchard area and sown it in clover so heavy that the seed was like mulch... that grass is a real killer for those of us who don't want to use herbicide.

good luck! and please wish us the same, that grass is something I truly feel sympathetic with you on, it is our arch nemesis haha.
 
J D Horn
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What about mint? Pretty agressive running and it crowds out other things. Members of the salvia family like culinary sage? Lavender?

 
David Hartley
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Find a compatible subterranean clover for your area. They handle acidic soil and heavy shade the best of clovers. They are an aggressively reseeding annual, which makes them excellent for aerating and mulching the soil. They are rather drought tolerant as well.
 
Andy Johnson
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M Foti, thanks for the advice. It's nice to hear from someone who feels my pain. The sad part is I did plough and till the whole field first. I was going to mulch right after planting but ran out of time and money. Boy is that hurting now! I am glad you mentioned the fabric. I used some thin cheap stuff that didn't seem to help any. I had kind of given up on it. I will probably try different things in different parts of the field. I'll do as you suggest and buy high quality fabric for one or two rows. Thanks to everyone for your insight.
 
Andy Johnson
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JD Horn,

For the Mint, we have mint growing there but it's surprisingly not that pervasive. It's only in a few spots. There must be something it doesn't like in the soil. It's really unique stuff though. It smells like chocolate mint!
 
Andy Johnson
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David,

I had never heard of subterranean clover before. I had planned on the more common variety because my bees love it. The downside I guess would be lack of flowers from what I have been reading. It would be worth it to kill off the grass though.
 
David Hartley
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Given your location, I will assume a highbush variety(ies)... That being the case; intersow some medicinal red clover with the subterranean clover. It should handle the acidic soil okay, by all evidence here where I live.
 
Curt Regentin
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Location: Northern Mich. Zone 5
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I too am interested in a companion plant for blueberries. Googling medicinal red clover seed just keeps bring up red clover. Is red clover the same as medicinal red clover? My blueberries definitely need nitrogen help.

 
David Hartley
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Yes; it is... I just added "medicinal", for those that did not know it

Also. Be sure to inoculate the blueberry roots with ericoid mycorrhizae. This will be o e of the most beneficial thi gs you can do for any plants in the heath family.
 
Andy Johnson
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David,

Thanks for your input. I am definitely going to look into the red clover. I have some growing naturally so seeding should take. Can you tell me more about "ericoid mycorrhizae"? I don't know what that is or where you get it.
 
David Hartley
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One possible means by which to aquire the beneficial fungus, is to locate a thriving speciment of the heath family out in the unadulterated wild; such as wild cranberry, blueberry, huckleberry, azalea, rhododendron, etc... dig down a little bit, just inside of the plant's dripline, to see if any of the fungus can be found. It will be creamy-white to khaki in color and growing from the plant roots. It is extemely delicate...

I have yet to look into a source for the powdered material for inoculation. Something I ought to do. Especially when talking of more than just a plant or half dozen to be inoculated.



More information than you'll probably ever want, lol:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0039524
 
Amanda Wheaton
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i am in michigan too.. and many blueberry farms around. I only have about 40 plants and maybe room for 40 more. I was thinking of putting carrots by mine lol.. But it was cause i need to use the soaker hose and i thought i would fill in that spot. Not sure how well it would work. I am following this thread with interest
 
Andrew Schreiber
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Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
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Hiya,

Here is a list that I compiled for our acidic pine soils. It is relevant to your blueberry guild in that the soils are acidic.

The list contains only perennials hardy to zone 6, and ones that are reasonably drought hardy as well. Not sure what your hardiness or precipitation is like, but I know that blueberries tend to be found in places with relatively cold Winters.

I am in South Central washington on the East side of the Cascades (in the rain shadow) and at a high elevation, so the list of plants is probably narrower than is relevant to you. But I hope it is of help.

Achillea millefolium Yarrow (tall herb, medicinal)
Actinidia arguta Hardy Kiwi (vine, edible fruit,)
Adiantum pedantum Maiden Hair Fern (large herb, edible young shoots)
Alcea Rosea Hollyhock (small herb, bee forage, some medicinal properties)
Amelianchier alnifolia Saskatoon (small tree, edible berry)
Amphicarpaea bracata Hog Peanut (small herb edible tuber)
Apios americana Groundnut (small herb, edible tuber)
Aquilegia canadensis Canada Columbine (early spring bee forage, medinal)
Arctostephylos uva-ursi Bearberry (medicinal, groundcover)
Asarum splendens Wild Ginger (roots, small herb)
Borago officinalis Borage (large herb, edible flowers, excellent bee forage)
Caragana Arborenscens Siberian Pea-Shrub (small/large bush, legume, animal browse, coppice/mulch, edible pea)
Castenea mollissima Chinese Chestnut (large tree, edible nut, coppice, animal browse)
Cornus avellana European Filbert (large tree, edible nut, coppice, animal browse)
Diplotaxis spp. Arugala (salad green, self seeding annual, prolific)
Eleagnus mulltiflora Goumi Berry (large shrub, delicious fruit, coppice/mulch, prolific)
Gaultheria procumbens Wintergreen (roundcover, herb/tea, evergreen)
Gaylussacia baccata Black Huckleberry (large spreading shrub, edible fruit)
Helianthus tuberosus Sunchoke (tall herb, edible tubers)
Lespedeza bicolor Bush Clover (small bush, legume, bee/animal forage, medicinal)
Lupinus spp Lupines (small herb, bee forage, legume)
Malus baccata, Malus ieonsis Crab Apples (small tree, animal forage)
Monarda didyma Bee Balm (large herb, bee forage, medicinal))
Monarda fistulosa Wild Burgamont (large herb, bee forage, medicinal)
Panax quinquefolius American Ginseng (small herb, high value, medicinal, likes shade)
Polygonum biflorum Solomon's seal (large herb, bee forage, medicinal)
Ribes nigrum Black Currant (bush, edible fruit)
Ribes hirtellum Smooth Gooseberry (bush, edible fruit)
Robinia psuedoacaccia black locust (large tree, legume, excellent animal/bird/bee forage, coppice, pole timber)
Ribes Spectabilis Salmonberry (medium shrub, edible berry)

Cheers,
Andrew
 
David Hartley
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Ah, yes! Yarrow would definitely be good to interplant here and there. Not just for medicinal; but for the habitat of beneficial insects.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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since you have so many blueberries, I would try something different on several different ones to see if you can find the best choice..my thought was to go to maybe some cardboard with a slit in it and a hole to slide over the blueberry trunk..to supress the weeds, and then put a mulch over that ..try cutting the grass before placing the cardboard and rake the clippiings on top as a mulch..a thick mulch.

i have heard that grasses of that type seem to take advantage of poor soil..so if the soil is improved and heavily mulched you may find that it will eventually die out I hope so for your sake as that would be a lot of land to dig all the grass out of..(which I have to do here)
 
Andrew Schreiber
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Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
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Brenda Groth wrote:since you have so many blueberries, I would try something different on several different ones to see if you can find the best choice..my thought was to go to maybe some cardboard with a slit in it and a hole to slide over the blueberry trunk..to supress the weeds, and then put a mulch over that ..try cutting the grass before placing the cardboard and rake the clippiings on top as a mulch..a thick mulch.

i have heard that grasses of that type seem to take advantage of poor soil..so if the soil is improved and heavily mulched you may find that it will eventually die out I hope so for your sake as that would be a lot of land to dig all the grass out of..(which I have to do here)


It's best to not mulch on top of the cardboard with anything that may contain large quantities of seed from plants you are snuffing out (ie your problem grass.) better to cut the grass and put cardboard on top of that, and then a large quantity (6-12 inches) of compost/composted-manure and non seedy mulch. It may be difficult for you to get access to this much material, but it is by-and-far the most effective way to snuff out grass and begin building a deep soil you can them seed on top of, or transplant into.

some good sources of "free" mulch are natural mulch (pine needle duff is good for blueberries), leaves from neighbors yards, or from landscaping companies. basically any carbonaceous material that is entering the waste stream.
 
jay william
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Location: Stokes County, NC
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I have lavender growing near a blueberry bush and it's doing awesome. I didn't plant it there for any specific reason, just kind of on a whim, but out of the 4 lavender bushes, this one is definetly doing the best. Maybe not that important, but one of the observations from our farm this year.
 
Mori no Niwa
Posts: 26
Location: Van Buren Co., MI
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Andy, we have a permaculture group in SW Michigan called Van-Kal Permaculture, and we'd love to meet you and talk about your property sometime. We have a "Google group" e-mail listserve (just search for the name), a Facebook page and a website (vankalpermaculture.org). I'm in Lawton, which is a bit south and east of prime blueberry country, but there are a lot of grapes grown around here. There's a guy in our group growing some organic blueberries in Bangor, he's got about 100 large bushes that were already on the farm he purchased.

I too would recommend trying various clovers and mints. Depending on where you are, you can get some clover varieties (and other cover crop or pasture seeds) in bulk at local seed outlets like SMS in Decatur. What are your soils like, how wet and how peat-y? Of the species Andrew listed, many are larger shrubs or even trees, which you'd have to account for in terms of shade and canopy spacing. The herbaceous perennials like yarrow, bergamot, wild ginger, and wintergreen would probably work well and not shade out your main crop, while providing other ecosystem services. Pine needle mulch is nice if you can get it in quantity. Yarrow and bergamot have both done well on my site, which is dry and sandy.

I've had a lot of problems with rabbits browsing my blueberry plants, but it sounds like yours are off to a running start, which is good.
-PJ
 
Andy Johnson
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Jay,

Interesting, I may try some Lavender just to see. What variety did you plant? I think there are three main ones, English, Spanish and French.

 
Andy Johnson
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Mori,

That's awesome! I will definitely check out your site. I think I know the guy you are talking about. Joe's Blues right? I met him at a couple of different farmers markets. He seems like a nice guy. My land is sandy and dry for the most part. I do have a pond and the area near it is wet during part of the year. The land drains well so it depends on how much rain we get. I usually have a high water table unless there is a drought.
 
John Alabarr
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I mulch my blueberries with pine straw.
 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Andy:

I've just been watching Permaculture videos on earthworks. I presume you've seen them. It sounded like you need more water storage?

Don Eggleston
 
Peter Hirst
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I am new to this site, and do not have a PDC, so maybe take this as a comment from beginner's eyes. But I do have some experience with the blubes. It seems to me that this thread began with a challenge posed more by an initial monocropping approach. Where I just moved from, and where I have some experience, blubes thrive naturally in wooded or savanna type communities with lots of natural, highly acidic mulch (oak leaves and pine straw). On the farm there, the blueberry monocrop is in former forest soil with heavy mulching of this same mix. The successful companion plants would seem, therefor to be the oaks and pines. not ground cover. As the bushes have matured, they shade out the grass themselves. I am looking at blubes for the farm I am on now. Have natural 4.5-5.5 soil, lots of riparian areas with heavy foliage, and so am looking to establish them in the moist soils (remember:no root hairs -> constant soil moisture requirement). The only other companion I am looking for would be a low-bush azalea of some kind that could provide annual foliage and compatible microbe/fungal community.
 
dan long
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I get the impression that you are looking for ONE method that will fix your problem. I read once in an article on organic farming that weed and pest control is best accomplished through "multiple, overlapping methods" and that sounds like great advice to me! Maybe there is or is not one single method that by itself will fix your problem but chances are it will introduce new problems. Why not, instead of trying to eliminate the grass, you take all the different advice you'e received on here and combine them to make the grass manageable?

Does your area have a really dry season? Using soaker hoses can help water the bushes and not the grass.

cardboard mulch is supposed to be highly effective. Someone suggested that you put the card board OVER the cut grass mulch so as to avoid putting grass seeds on top of the card board. That sounds like sound advice to me.

Try putting some compost on top of the cardboard so that you can plant a cover crop on top of that. What kind of "weeds" do you see all over your place? Include those in your cover crop because those are going to be the most aggressive and successful in your area, therefore competing best with grass. Include some tap-rooted cover crops so that the blueberry roots can follow them down beyond where the grass will compete with them.

I really like the advice of dropping the PH down to where the blueberries are happy but the grass is not. Though grass is pretty tolerant of a wide PH range (and every other adversity for that matter), in combination with other methods, this could help big time.

 
Dave Lodge
Posts: 93
Location: New England
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I am getting good results with mountain mint, woodland strawberry, lowbush blueberry, black huckleberry, sweet fern.

In the wild lowbush blueberry cultivation, highbush blueberry, sweet fern are weeds of the environment.

Non-native turf grasses are usually sensitive to acidic soil, and grows best a neutral PH. If blueberries are growing well already, the soil is probably on the acidic side.

Good study on different mulches for blueberry production in Georgia.
http://www.extension.org/sites/default/files/w/6/65/Mulch_Effect_Organically_Grown_Blueberries.pdf
 
denise comeau
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My brothers recently bought and got a cedar shingle mill up and running. They are using every last bit of the wood into products. I just bought a truckload of cedar shavings {shredded down} for my blueberries. Have it piled in the corner of my small orchard. I have 88 blueberry bushes at the moment,with plans for at least a 100 bush orchard-and am in my 3rd year of selling my produce. We live in Maine on one acre. I started about 9 yrs ago, and also at that time I planted a separate "Comfrey Bed", I think 15 plants-with room for more. The Comfrey pulls up high amounts of precious nutrients from its long tap roots. I cut the leaves only and spread around whatever plants I want. I can get at least 3 crop cuttings in one season. I also fill a food grade barrel with just the leaves,add a little water-then let the rain fill it over time,and make Comfrey compost tea. Last week, I went and raked up 10 bags of pine needles from my moms for the blues, I use organic fertilizer,no spray. I asked hubby to get me a big load of cardboard,he went and got some yesterday. I dont mind mowing the rows of grass,but want to do a heavy mulch around the bushes, killing as much grass as I can. I will use the cardboard, fabric on top of that,shavings and pine needles. I dont recommend using grass clippings at all,since any seeds of anything will simply sprout on top,and thats defeating your efforts. The cedar will help to deter some pests. I have plans to plant my own line of pine trees on one side of the orchard in the spring, throwing the shade away from the orchard of course. My 10 variaties of blues are in full sun all day. My major problem is the Jap Beetle. I now handpick each season, twice a day into soapy water, and that does seem to keep them at bay, and over the winter will get a better collection system in place for next year. I got one of my brothers interested in Blues,and they now have 8? bushes growing. Anyways,thats what I use for mulching on my small homestead.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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I have 2 Blueberry bushes planted 20 years ago which yield 25 lbs total and all I do is occasionally put some pine bark mulch around them. These are right next to my pond and all that water probably keeps the pH down. The weeds/grass don't seem to bother them. I have apple trees flanking the BB and they both have comfrey around them suppressing grass. I've tried Nasturtium around some apples for the first time this year and that is an awesome mulch which is very pretty and edible.

I recommend the OP buy The Permaculture Orchard for tips on grass suppression and running this type of operation. Based on that DVD I will add some kind of N-fixing tree or shrub to the BB spot.
 
Colin Nelson
Posts: 70
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Have you considered a "Lasagne" gardening type solution? Cardboard can be attained for free, or very cheaply, and it's good at choking ground cover out. Perhaps you could get a few *straw* bales, or other seedless highly compostable material, a lot of cardboard, and other types of compostables and section by section start choking out the grass.

I'm not sure how things like Creeping Thyme and various Mints would do there, but if they can get established they'll be a great asset for bees and bugs, and they don't really have to be maintained. You could possibly do things like buckwheat as well, or some tall annual grasses, that you can cut later and leave on the "lasagne" mats.

Cardboard would also allow you to cover the bases of the blueberry bushes and it shouldn't harm the roots while it chokes out most of the grass.

I just realized that I should have read all of the replies before I posted this, someone probably already suggested it...but I wrote it so I'll post it! haha.
 
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