Strawberries & Blueberries: Unlikely Companion Fruits
Have you ever thought about growing companion fruits? How do freshly picked strawberries and blueberries sound?
Regardless of their appearing in July 4th fruit spreads, you may know if you have grown or picked either of these fruits that they don’t ripen at the same time.
However, that is not what makes them ideal companion plants!
What makes them ideal companion plants? They can both be useful and beautiful landscape plants! Yes, blueberry bushes work wonderfully as shrubs, while strawberry patches can make nice evergreen ground cover even when not producing berries. Did you know that?
For those of you who didn’t know how these plants grow, or who need to brush up on it.
How Strawberries and Blueberries Grow
For starters, strawberries never taste even a fraction as delicious at the grocery store as they do from the garden. In my opinion, strawberries and tomatoes are the two things most worthy of all the work they require. There is simply no comparing these fresh from the garden to their supermarket counterparts.
Strawberries are the first fruits to ripen in the spring. That is around June in Michigan, but as early as February in Texas. They are both low in sugar and high in vitamins and minerals. They are, as I mentioned above, hardy perennials. Meaning, they can and will spread and grow all through the growing season and, if treated properly, come back and produce berries year after year. They do die back in winter and grow again in spring.
In the spring after bearing fruit, strawberries send out runners. Some send out many runners. In fact, they may need to be pinched off to keep the main plant more robust and bearing more fruit – and some send out only a few. These runners will produce daughter plants that remain attached to the mother plant.
After bearing fruit and sending out daughter plants, strawberries take a well-deserved rest for the rest of the summer. They need to be kept weeded and lightly watered. However, if you do take care of them, they grow again in the fall for a bit. This is when they develop latent buds that will turn into flowers next spring!
Another thing to take into consideration is that strawberry plants need 8 hours of full sun each day and they prefer slightly acidic soil (pH between 5.5 and 6.8). Additionally, they need good drainage. Make sure not to bury the crown of a strawberry plant if you aren’t starting your own seeds – it could rot the plant.
Strawberry plants need bees. They need to be pollinated in order to set fruit. After the strawberry flowers are fertilized, they produce fruit in about 30 days. For this reason, unseasonably cold weather which keeps bees indoors can also affect your strawberry yield.
Keep the birds out!
The biggest pest will be birds, so you will need to invest in some netting to keep them out once the plants begin bearing fruit.
If you want to plant strawberries this year, right about now is the time to do it if you live in a cool climate. Further south, you can wait until fall. The roots need time to get established before the ground freezes. It is important to mulch to keep the soil moist or use black plastic (slugs really like organic mulch like straw).
Here’s the cool part. If you want to use your strawberry plants like ground cover around or near your blueberry shrubs, they will get leggy and they might not produce as much fruit as a highly managed strawberry patch. However, they will produce fruit for many years.
Blueberry shrubs are actually related to rhododendrons and azaleas. In fact, before 1900, blueberries weren’t cultivated at all. They were only scavenged in the wild.
Now we have pest and disease resistant berry bushes you can grow in almost any climate, for many sizes of fruit, seasons, and flavors in your backyard which will produce for 20 years. Isn’t science wonderful?
Main Types of Blueberry Bushes
There are three main types of blueberry bushes on the market: highbush, lowbush and hybrid half high. All those berries you get from the supermarket are highbush berries, as most breeding has focused on this species.
All blueberry bushes need acidic soil – a pH between 4 and 5. They are all shallowly rooted plants, so they need a soil that can hold moisture and drains well. You will need to get a test kit for your soil, as blueberries can be picky about the right amount of acidity.
Blueberries will take more patience. Even if you buy a bush (or several bushes, as they aren’t self-pollinating. Plus, who doesn’t want more blueberries to freeze for winter snacks?
It will take some time to allow the plant to grow and establish itself. It is recommended that you pinch off flowers for the first year or two so as not to allow the plant to fruit and conserve its energy for growth.
In the 6th year of its life is when a blueberry bush is really ready to give out its fruit. If you are planting multiple bushes, make sure to space them 5 feet apart and 8 feet between rows, if you have rows. Dig each hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the roots of the plant when putting in the ground.
What is the great thing about blueberry bushes? They are a beautiful shrub to add to your landscaping. They put forth little white blooms in spring and turn a lovely dark red shade in the fall. You won’t be sorry you invested the time and effort into a few of these beauties.
Both strawberries and blueberries are easy to grow garden fruits that you can plant once and reap from for many years. They both can act as beautiful landscape plants and they can be grown together. Strawberries act like ground cover to keep the soil around the blueberry shrubs moist and weed-free. Any way you decide to plant them, you will be happy you did!