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Paul Lutz
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I am planning on starting blueberries next spring in eastern PA with several hundred plants. The area I will be planting them is currently tall grass. What should I be doing this year to prepare the land? What useful cover grops work well with blueberries? I am hoping to end up with a permanent short perrenial ground cover in my blueberry patch that doesn't need mowing constantly. I am thinking strawberries or rhubarb might be a good companion, but I really don't know... anyone have an easy to maintain blueberry patch? What do you have growing in it?
 
James Freyr
Posts: 240
Location: Middle Tennessee
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Have you had a soil analysis done yet? If not, I myself would start there. Having soil test data at the beginning is extremely valuable as a guide so no soil amendments are made based on guesses. Blueberries need a soil pH between 4.5 and 5.5 to grow their best and provide bountiful harvests. There are other factors to take into consideration like nutrients in the soil, and the soil test will list these values. While it is entirely possible the soil for the future blueberry patch may already have a low pH in the desired range, it may be necessary to lower the pH, and that takes time. I have used elemental sulfur to lower the soil pH for my blueberry bushes, and it's on the way down, but not quite there yet and my bushes show it with interveinal chlorosis from a lack of iron. Iron becomes more available as the pH goes lower. Using elemental sulfur to lower pH relies on bacteria living in the soil to bind some hydrogen and oxygen to the sulfur to turn it into sulfuric acid, which lowers the pH. These bacteria really only do this when the soil is warm and go dormant during the winter. Now is a perfect time to add sulfur if needed, then retest your soil come autumn and see what gains were made. It's always a good idea to adjust a soils pH in steps, rather than trying to achieve the target pH in one step. Usually soil testing labs will give recommendations on how much sulfur to apply if you let them know you intend to plant blueberries. After the blueberry bushes are planted, a mulch of pine bark or pine needles is a good idea, as they have mild acidifying effects on the soil as well.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Paul,  As James says, a soil test is the first step. His recommendation of using elemental sulfur and how it works is great advice.

Now about the pH thing, many of the nutrient minerals that we want to find in our blueberries, service berries and black berries are not able to be utilized at a pH lower than 5.5.
While it is true that these berries will grow in lower than 5.5 pH, the minerals that will be able to be taken in through the roots diminish at lower than optimal pH ranges.
Also there are two ectomycorrhizals that benefit blueberries and serviceberries that can not survive pH lower than 5.5, so that should be taken into consideration as well.
My blueberry area is monitored for several things, mineral densities, pH, bioactive bacteria and fungal hyphae. The blueberry soil will be slanted to the bacterial side with only specific fungi present in the healthiest of soils.

Since you are thinking ahead (very good thing) do the  planning before implementation and that way you can have great bushes with superior berry nutritional value.
Blueberries are even being used as a therapy for clogged arteries, they contain several compounds that help the body erode plaque in arteries and thus keep them clear and flowing as they should.

Redhawk
 
Paul Lutz
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Thank you for your responses! I will focus on a soil test first and go from there. This part of my property has a lot of pine litter and is just downslope from an oak/pine mix. I have been thinking that converting the pine trees I don't want into mulch in this area is a viable option.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2394
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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indeed it is a viable solution for your purpose for that area.
With that area having pine established, it will most likely have the desired or near to it pH already.
If it is close (by the soil test) then you can concentrate on minerals only, since the blueberries will create exudates to complete the pH adjustments as long as the minerals are present.

Redhawk
 
Sharol Tilgner
Posts: 40
Location: Pleasant Hill, Oregon
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I have tried a lot of thins with blueberries. I did use strawberries initially for 3-4 years as you mentioned. I noticed I needed to more heavily add compost though as the strawberries were growing excessively and seemed to be hogging the space and compost. Yes, I did weed them out, over and over again. Blueberries have roots close to the top of the soil, so whatever you put with them be sure you don't have to weed the plant to much as it is hard on the blueberries.  I decided not to use the strawberries any more since I had to weed or they created a dense matt over the area and hogged the compost. I tried many things and never was really thrilled about anything I put in with them over the years. The thing I think I liked the best was letting chickweed grow in the late winter and spring and then putting melons in when it died back and when the melon plants died back, chickweed would start to grow again. There were other volunteers too, but the chickweed was always nice. I also planted nasturtium in areas where there was nothing else as it made good cover and I could eat the flowers and they were so beautiful.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 185
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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I like the idea of the strawberries under the blueberry plants. I have a hugel with that setup but it is too early to tell, I sure hope the strawberries spread like Sharol was discussing. I think you are going to have a ground cover, and given the choice between strawberries and honeysuckle, I'm picking strawberries. I am not concerned with the possible matting issue, by the time the strawberries are that robust the blueberries should be able to tolerate it. The soil I have them in is pretty poor since it is a one-year old hugel, but it is degrading fast. They will come to an equilibrium.

I am intrigued by what Bryant said about the fungal vs bacterial culture for the berries, they have done very well for me in a very fungal area. I think the critical piece is not just the pH, that is a proxy for organic acid presence. Unfortunately it can also mean a cation deficiency. Mine are hypochloremic despite being in red (iron laden) clay. They presented when fruiting and the calcium demand is high. I gave them some dolomitic lime and they are coming back green and lush, so what Bryant talks about with plants making their own pH environment seems spot-on if minerals are present.
 
Dee Alvin
Posts: 2
Location: Salem, United States
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Blueberries are a bog plant. Adequate water is essential. Don't let them dry out even once or they will slowly decline.....
 
Jordan Harder
Posts: 13
Location: Cocolalla ID
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I have similar plans for next year, so really appreciate all of your input in this thread. I need to do a soil test, but feel the spot will grow them well. It is a meadow close to the water table, downhill from pine and cedar woods. Keen for more ideas for preparatory green manures and cover crops. Thanks!
 
Paul Bourdon
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I converted my front yard to a blueberry patch 3 years ago. The soil was terrible with little life in it although soil testing mostly suggested there were only a few deficiencies. I did adjust the pH with sulfur and pine bark mulch. I have been sheet mulching the patch with cardboard and wood chips for the last 3 years and the difference in the soil is amazing. I can dig out a shovel full of soil from the patch now and there are 20-25 worms in it. If your in one of the areas with limestone you'll really have to pay attention to the pH (I fossil collect there with my son). If you can find the wood chips, I would spread sulfur then sheet mulch as much of it as you can this year. Good Luck!
 
S. G. Botsford
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shallow roots coupled with continuously moist, but not soggy are a problem, along with the pH.

For small scale production try this: 

take the end of a barrel.
Drill a couple  holes several inches up the side.
Fill with fine sand to the bottom of the holes.
Cut a pop bottle in such a way that i allow water to pass, but reduce soil leaking out the holes.  I suggest packing the pop bottle with either a cheap sponge, or synthetic cloth.  A J-cloth would work.

Put down 4-5 inches of high peat soil mix.

Plant blueberry.

Mulch with 2" of wood chips.

The idea is that the fine sand acts as a reservoir providing water to the base of the peat layer.  The wood mulch reduces the evaporation.  The holes drain only the exess water.

If you do this, use the black or dark blue plastic barrels.  They seem to be the most stable against sunlight.  A metal barrel will degrade very fast due to the acidic soil.
 
Casey Pfeifer
Posts: 7
Location: Carpinteria, CA
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Hi Paul,

We've done research (though not yet implemented) on a mono crop blueberry retrofit, and if I recall correctly sorrel and yarrow were two of the leading perennial groundcover candidates that worked within the pH restrictions of blueberries. Particularly we looked at dwarf yarrow for covering pathways (the place is u-pick) and sorrel along with woodland strawberries for groundcover on the planting mound. The strawberries underneath are something we are playing with as well, but have not seen an actual example executed, much less in a commercial system.

Though not a groundcover or interplanting candidate, vetiver grass can handle the pH and can provide a close by, perennial and very valuable source of chop and drop mulch/compost material. Its columnar root system won't compete with the blueberries, and it can provide a host of other benefits depending on your situation. Might be good edging for uphill on contour water infiltration?

Also just started growing and experimenting with creeping raspberry (Rubus  calycinoides) - don't know about its pH requirements exactly but it might work as a groundcover - also not sure on its root profile, though it does well in droughty, hot sites, so might be fairly deep rooted and thus not compete with you blueberries? Forms a beautiful mat of 3" high vegetation, with the added fun bonus of small orange raspberries once a year.

Best of luck with everything!
 
Amit Enventres
Posts: 433
Location: Ohio, USA
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So, I got one bb with strawberries under it, but strawberries can get weeds in them too. The pH restrictions and the fact that it thrives with a heavy mulching of sawdust really mean that weeding isn't usually an issue, in my opinion. Perhaps the best companion is a distant deciduous tree you can use the leaves and branches of as acidic mulch


 
Jordan Harder
Posts: 13
Location: Cocolalla ID
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Though not a groundcover or interplanting candidate, vetiver grass can handle the pH and can provide a close by, perennial and very valuable source of chop and drop mulch/compost material. Its columnar root system won't compete with the blueberries, and it can provide a host of other benefits depending on your situation. Might be good edging for uphill on contour water infiltration?

Why is the vetiver grass not a candidate for a ground cover? Too much competition for nutrients?
 
Casey Pfeifer
Posts: 7
Location: Carpinteria, CA
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Jordan Harder wrote:
Though not a groundcover or interplanting candidate, vetiver grass can handle the pH and can provide a close by, perennial and very valuable source of chop and drop mulch/compost material. Its columnar root system won't compete with the blueberries, and it can provide a host of other benefits depending on your situation. Might be good edging for uphill on contour water infiltration?

Why is the vetiver grass not a candidate for a ground cover? Too much competition for nutrients?


Due to its size (will likely be as big or larger than blueberry bushes), growth habit (upright, clumping grass, doesn't sprawl or creep) and texture (very stiff, not super easy to work around for pruning the blueberries). I'm not worried about root competition, vetiver is very deep rooted. Perhaps it could edge or bookend blueberry rows, or be used to mitigate overland water flows through the blueberry patch, more of an edge Planting than an interplanting.
 
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