Mulching is an important thing in an organic garden. It is crucial for protecting the soil, retaining moisture and suppressing weeds. It can also be beneficial in other ways, such as providing habitat and shelter for soil life and other wildlife.
Many people are familiar with mulches such as compost, well-rotted manures, straw, wood chip etc… Those living a permaculture lifestyle are often also very familiar with chopping and dropping green plant matter and spreading this around other plants to return nutrients to the soil.
But one thing that is often overlooked by people who are new to permaculture is the potential to use ground cover plants as living mulch. Ground cover plants can not only find their place in a woodland garden or forest garden. Living mulches can also potentially work well in vegetable beds.
It is important to choose the right living mulch if you plan to incorporate it around other plants. The strategies and plant choices that work in a forest garden are not necessarily the same ones that will work well in polyculture beds – and vice versa.
One key thing is to make sure that the plant you choose as a living mulch to incorporate around annual crops in a polyculture does not compete too much with them for water and nutrients.
Even when they do compete with crops for water and nutrients to a degree, they can still have a beneficial effect and increase overall positive impact and yield.
Living mulch or ground cover in a vegetable plot is another form of companion planting. Yet in terms of its benefits – it is not that much different to more traditional mulching. But living mulch can confer benefits that spreading organic matter cannot. For example, a living mulch might fix nitrogen. It might repel, confuse or distract pest species. It may attract beneficial insects… and these are just a few examples.
So when you next think about strewing or spreading sheet mulches in your garden – don’t forget to at least consider living mulch options.