Protect your Plants: How One Growers Supply Employee Kept his Blueberries Safe from Predators and More!
Today’s blog post comes to us from Carlos C., a long time Growers Supply employee and hobby gardener.
My wife and I are big fans of pick-your-own blueberries and each year we visit the local orchards to stock up. I planted my own blueberry bushes four years ago, along with strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. At the beginning of each season, I would see tiny blueberries growing, but by harvest time they would always seem to disappear. Obviously the local New England birds were “picking their own,” along with the other critters in my neighborhood. Determined to have my own blueberries for breakfast this year, I decided to install some bird netting over the blueberry bushes.
Growers Supply sells lightweight and heavyweight polyethylene bird netting. The mesh is 1”, so even small birds are kept out. This approach would keep the blueberries on my bushes, however, I thought that I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and opted for shade cloth. Shade cloth is a knitted polyethylene fabric that comes in different densities. The higher the shade density, the less light that is allowed through the material. While blueberries love full sun, a 30% density will allow for a reduction in my watering and keep the bushes from burning up if we get some scorching summer days. The shade material allows water to seep in, but you may want to consider drip irrigation or a soaker hose to meet the water needs of the plants. In addition, the shade will keep out helpful bees so you will need to open it a bit to allow the bees in, or pollinate the plants with a device such as the VegiBee™ Garden Pollinator.
The first step was to hammer in galvanized conduit I had left over from my previous hoop house project. Blueberries will grow from four to six feet, so I went with four feet from ground to the top of the pipe as my plants are still very small and I enjoy chatting with my neighbor. An alternative to the galvanized conduit would be Growers Supply’s Fiberglass Tree Stakes, which can work like fence posts. After pounding the pipes into place, I added PVC Slip Caps so that the shade cloth would not get damaged.
My blueberry patch had a layer of weed cover around the plants already, but I decided to place another layer down. I used Standard Ground Cover along with some Fabric Securing Staples. Don’t be fooled by some of the weed barrier that you see at big box stores. Standard and Heavy-Duty Ground Cover, like the ones from Growers Supply, are what the professionals use and will give you a much longer life and reduce weeding chores.
You’ll notice that the width of pipe to pipe isn’t that wide. Once my blueberry plants grow larger, I will switch to Fiberglass Tree Stakes and widen the space. Once the pipes were in place and had their end caps, I used Polyester Curtain Cord and wrapped the rope around each pipe. I used cable ties to keep the rope from sliding down. Some people drill into the pipe and thread the rope through and some people use metal clamps; use whatever material you have.
With the rope in place, I slid the shade cloth over the structure. As mentioned, this shade cloth is 30% density, so 70% of the natural sunlight will shine through. I used bulk shade cloth and had our manufacturing facility sew reinforcing tape and grommets on it. Kudos to our team for producing such a high-quality product! The finished shade cloth is truly beautiful.
Once the shade cloth is in place, you will want to use shade clips or cable ties to secure the shade to the rope (or to the pipe, if you prefer). I used some Fabric Securing Staples to hold down the bottom of the shade cloth. This method allows me to easily lift the shade cloth to manage the plants let bees in.
I’m excited to have the chance to finally taste my own blueberries. I decided not to cover my raspberries and blackberries, as those bushes produce more than I can eat, so the birds can have their share. You might have noticed my strawberries at the end of my bushes. I have them growing in Aero Soft Grow Containers. I find them rather handy for moving around and they keep the management of the plants to a minimum. I’ll end this article with a tip from my co-worker. He recommended placing pine needles at the base of blueberries to improve the acidity of the soil. A great tip to reduce the use of chemicals, while proving the acid that blueberries need!
About Carlos: Originally from Brazil, Carlos was introduced to hoop houses and greenhouse environmental controls while living in Japan for 15 years. As a native Brazilian, he is very passionate about his coffee and loves fresh, locally grown vegetables and cheeses. In addition to many American native vegetables, Carlos grows many Japanese vegetables and herbs, such as okura, shiso and mitsuba. When not tending his own garden, he enjoys visiting farmers markets such as the Coventry Farmers Market in Connecticut.