A Very Berry Experiment -- AKA: They Stay

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Word to the Wise.

Before heading out to your favorite nursery/big box store this weekend to fulfill your gardening duties or fantasies -- I post the following update in response to the previous posting of "A Very Berry Bird Backyard."

It is in this section where I detail the efforts that Venus and I made to increase our berry plantings around the yard. Following the advice of Folsom City Arborist Ken Menzer -- we completed a project by planting bare root blueberry bushes beneath our cherry and peach stone fruit trees.

We took this action after attending a Home Orchard class taught by Mr. Menzer last month. It was there where he offered the following advice of planting blueberries beneath stone fruit trees. To paraphrase: "Blueberry bushes and stone fruit trees have a symbiotic relationship. Blueberry bushes are shallow-rooted -- and help open fissures or pockets that benefit the fruit tree root systems located below. At the same time, the leaves of the stone fruit trees provide cover from the afternoon sun for blueberry bushes planted below."

The Folsom City Arborist offered the same advice with the planting of herbs like Spearmint underneath apple tree plantings. The symbiotic relationship -- he indicated -- was similar.

I want to advise my vast readership (all 2.5 of you) that Venus and I are not "experts" in the gardening field. We are not Arborists. We are not Certified Master Gardeners. We're not even close. We are just your normal, everyday, couple. We love to garden. We blog about gardening. But that is as far as it goes.

I offer this word of warning because it seems that we've set off a small firestorm of controversey regarding this planting of blueberry bushes beneath stone fruit trees. Please be advised that there ARE -- indeed -- Certified Master Gardeners who do NOT agree with what we have done here.

One of these Master Gardeners who I mention often on this blog -- and is probably the most popular and well-known gardener in all of Northern California is Farmer Fred Hoffman -- who hosts the Sunday gardening shows on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK and Talk 650 KSTE.

I refer to Fred often because he is perhaps one of my biggest gardening mentors. I've learned a lot from listening to his show -- and also learned a great deal when I was working with Fred at both stations. Although I didn't work directly with him -- I could hear him from my perch at the "News Update Desk."

It's safe to say that Mr. Hoffman was not at all pleased with the blueberry planting efforts highlighted in "A Very Berry Bird Backyard" -- but he's not the only one. Others in his corner include Redwood Barn Nursery Owner Don Shor, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Horticulture and Angela Pratt, who holds a similar degree in Horticulture and is also the creator and the brains behind Sacramento Gardening.

Let me tell you this much: These people know what they are talking about when it comes to any sort of landscaping effort around the front or backyard. They know far more than I'll ever know in five lifetimes of gardening. They know what works. They also know what doesn't work.

Planting blueberry bushes underneath fruit trees? According to all three? It's NOT GOING TO WORK.

Get that? Let me repeat: IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK.

Why? Well -- the first warning came from Fred Hoffman AFTER we had completed our planting efforts. In his words: "What is the pH of the soil where you planted the blueberries? If it is above 6, you may have poor production. This is why blueberry planting around here is recommended for containers, where you can control the pH."

Not only that -- he provided this link to the Dave Wilson Nursery website -- where the number one piece of advice was:

"To make growing Blueberries easier, Do NOT Plant them in the ground!!"

Oh boy. Oh joy. I could just imagine the look on my wife's face after she worked so hard to put these blueberry bushes underneath the fruit trees in question. And now we had to pull them out? But why would Ken Menzer indicate this was an acceptable pairing?

Fred's advice on the matter continued with the following link from the University of California Cooperative Extension. This helpful information also contained the highlighted words of advice:

"A major requirement, however, is that blueberries require an acidic soil with a pH of about 5.0 to 5.5. Blueberries are in the same family as azaleas and rhododendrons, and need similar growing conditions."

Fruit trees like peaches -- I was to later learn -- do best in a soil pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Blueberry bushes require an even more acidic soil with a pH of 5.0 to 5.5. Yes -- while both pH readings are considered to be in the "acidic range," the requirements of both do not mix well together.

In other words -- if the following information and advice are true -- stone fruit trees and blueberry bushes make for poor cousins and should not share the same living quarters.

Yet -- at the same time -- both Venus and I keep reading the notes and advice we learned from Ken Menzer. He didn't just have "words of advice," he illustrated the pairing together in a series of slides from his home orchard.

And there it was: visual proof. Blueberry bushes planted directly beneath stone fruit trees. Not just any blueberry bush mind you -- but HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE bushes that were loaded with berries.

Pictures do not lie.

Now -- I offer this posting to you as a warning. It's not that I do not believe or reject the advice of well respected gardeners like Fred Hoffman, Don Shor or Angela Pratt. All three of them are on the same page when it comes to time-tested advice of where blueberry bushes should be planted -- and where they should not be planted.

I will also add that whenever I've ignored the good advice offered by one or all three -- I wind up regretting it a great deal. Not all of the time mind you -- but most of the time.

But as far as we're concerned? We're stubborn. We're going to leave the Southern Highbush Blueberry bushes right where they are planted. If gardening can be singled down to one word it would be EXPERIMENT.

As far as our little experiment is concerned: Time will tell. The blueberry bushes that we planted last weekend will either produce -- or not produce. We're taking a chance at this -- but it's a chance we're willing to take.

As for you? Well -- it's up to you. Consider yourself *informed.*


Mike L said...

I look forward to finding out how this experiment pans out. Everything I plant is an experiment and lord knows more often than not they don't work, this is usually due to some fault of my own. We learn from experimentation whether successful or un. I'll be looking forward to updates. :)

Bill Bird said...

Thanks Mike! Who knows?

SacVolleyball.com said...

Hi Bill, this is Jeremy in Orangevale. I started with a couple blueberries in pots about 4 years ago. Those two are huge and I've bought any new varieties I've seen at the stores over the years. This year there are a huge amount different varieties available and I went a little crazy, but I now have over 13 varieties. Most new so I can't tell for sure, but the 5 varieties I had before were growing slightly under the canopy of a big apple tree, and a peach, and surrounded on all sides by newly planted photenia. My two originals (misty and chandler) are over 4 feet tall. Albeit mine are in pots with a mostly peat base, the good folks are gardenweb have done similar experiements. The result seems to be what we already know: plants are rediculously versitile and will continue to amaze us. Good luck with your berries, I love mine. Also, I noticed the other day that Fair oaks horticultural center has some blueberries planted in the ground and they are amazing looking. Very large trunks, I was jealous for sure.

Fred Hoffman said...

The question remains: What is the pH of the soil around the blueberries you planted in the ground?

Bill Bird said...

Working on that pH reading Fred. Today was a "disaster in the making day" by purchasing items for you know what.

ed said...

I have found in the many years that I have worked with Blueberries that the organic content in the soil is second only to the PH in importance. In saying this will add that I have found that the best quality berry is achieved in FULL sun. So often sunburn damage that is blamed on full sun is in fact the PH of the soil being too high when the summer heat comes on and the humidity drops. How does the fact that the blueberrys do so well under the tree?
The PH is most likely around 6 to 6.5 this is fine for most fruit trees. The shade protects the tree from the effects of the heat of the summer. So the only thing I would assume is compromised is the quality of the fruit. As for the fruit trees benefiting from the relationship, do to the shallow nature of the rootsystem the Blueberry will require more frequent water, even when mulch is added the imbalance of water would be to the fruit tree.

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Bill Bird said...

Dear Mr. Viagra Spammer,

Please go away and leave my vegetable gardening blog be. Why I'm sure you have good wares to sell -- I'm not interested in having them sold here.

Please go and troll somewhere else.