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Blueberry Weed Management Between Rows and in Rows
Weed control between the rows
The root system of blueberry plants is not wide and the roots are also shallow. Therefore, inter-row cultivation for weed control using inter-row turf is a good practice. Cover crops between the rows are called living mulches or sod media. Shaded areas generally do not compete with blueberry crops unless inter-row plants and grasses are allowed to invade the rows.
Between the rows of blueberries, it is necessary to place sod of a non-invasive type and maintain it by mowing several times a year. You can allow some weeds and cover crops to grow in the sod between the blueberry plants. For example, dandelions are an acceptable weed to grow. Dandelion grows a long taproot and pulls nutrients deep from the soil to the surface. When mowed, these nutrients are available to your crops.
The key is not to allow the weeds to form seeds that can later germinate and spread the weed problem in the rows. The area between the rows can be used to make useful amounts of mulch.
A strip about 6 to 10 inches wide that is clear of weeds is sometimes maintained between the edge of the mulch and the grass center. This strip reduces the possibility of cover crop invasion of blueberry bushes and reduces the possibility of weed invasion resulting in competition with the blueberry crop for water, nutrients and sunlight. In organic systems, this weed-free ribbon belt is maintained without the use of herbicides.
The first step in the sheet mulching process is to cut the weeds in the row of blueberry plants. Then add a layer of cardboard or newspaper at least ten pages thick. They should overlap at least six inches to prevent grass and weeds from growing between the overlapping areas. Any place where the newspaper is not overlapped enough, weeds will grow through that area. The next step is to use sawdust, pine bark, wood chips, or any other material you have available to cover the newsprint. This sheet mulching is a process of construction, not disruption. In this process, instead of determining what needs to be removed from the field to build a bed, you consider what you can put in it that will smother weeds and break down, over time, to build rich soil. The process is basically how nature builds soil. If you use sawdust, wood chips or grass clippings or any other material in a raised bed, it will take several months for it to break down; in the meantime it does its weed control job. Using raised beds is definitely a good way to treat the soil with the respect it deserves.
An optimal weed-free zone is especially important in the first year or two when the plants are young. It should extend approximately 1.5 to 2.0 feet from the base of the plant. This means creating a 3- to 4-foot-wide bed in a weed-free row. Therefore, a strip of mulch about 4 feet wide under the plants with a depth of 3 to 5 inches of sawdust, pine bark, wood chips, straw, or shavings is recommended. The surface of the mulch should be designed to encourage water penetration and should be flat enough to avoid crusting.
Suppression of weeds in rows
A common problem in blueberry culture for many growers is weed control.
Blueberries are often grown in raised beds to ensure good drainage and reduce the possibility of blueberry plant roots getting stuck in waterlogged soil and rotting, leading to the death of the bush. Raised beds also reduce water-borne diseases. Placing cardboard or newspaper over the bed and covering it with mulch as mentioned before can help suppress weed growth. Thick mulches suppress weeds and diseases to some extent, help regulate soil temperature, ensure a slow release of nutrients and conserve moisture. Blueberry plants have shallow roots that lack root hairs and are therefore not efficient enough at absorbing water and minerals, making irrigation and mulching very important.
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