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As a muchly  keen mulcher  I've spent years of effort carpeting my soil with dead matter. Usually anything that was once growing  can be used as mulch this way.  Chop and drop. Lawn clippings. Straw. Paper...

More recently I've been much taken with green, or living, mulching

Living mulch provides numerous benefits to the garden and soil. What is living mulch? Any plant that is used to cover an area of soil and adds nutrients, enhances soil porosity, decreases weeds and prevents soil erosion, among other attributes. Basically, living mulch is a low-growing ground cover that is planted for a variety of reasons. Planting a living mulch cover crop enhances next season’s planting area and minimizes a host of open space problems. Read more ...>

If you assume that any living mulch MUST BE a legume you'd be narrowing your mulching vision. If you look at the above definition there are many plants that 'could' serve as living mulches.

Living mulch is a thick ground cover of perennial and self-seeding plants – producing mulch right where you need it.  It’s better for your soil because plants supply:

  • Leaves and other organic materials to cover the surface of your soil and in your soil from their roots.
  • Root exudates (the sugars and proteins in root exudates to feed mycorrhizal fungi and other microbes in your soil).
  • Opportunities to solve issues like compacted soil, nitrogen deficiencies, inadequate pollination and pest problems using ecological support plants in your species. Read more...>

I'll be doing a video soon about my experience with my living mulch -- this post is an introduction to the topic.  The complication with backyard gardening is that much of the 'living mulch discussion' is geared towards large enterprises -- either green mulching for  grazing or commercial horticulture.

When space is at a premium, handing it over gratis to ground covers may be too much to ask when the habit is to simply throw straw or similar mulch down instead.

Also green mulches are not 'neat' and can make your yard look over grown.

Supposedly any kitchen gardener worth their credentials  should spend an inordinate amount of their outdoor time weeding.

I use a whipper snipper on my green mulch if it gets too tall.I also may swathe it with my sickle-on-a-stick for  any up close and personal encounters.I also move it aside when I'm planting seeds and seedlings.

But I , in the main, have decided to let it least while I work out if it is doing me and my garden  any good.

One thing I do know is that (touch wood) I don't suffer much from pests or diseases. In fact I never think of them being issues for my plant growing activism.

I'm still a dry (dead plant) mulcher -- year in year out of laying down  grass clippings  with a recent  increasing reliance of cut Vetiver grass. I'm also growing Vetiver among my plants as well around the borders of my beds.

I also grow Vetiver among a living green mulch.

"So what's my green mulch?"you ask.

The answer and discussion is coming soon to a page near you.

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Thoughts on plant types and varieties that work well? Wonder if one could get away with it as a lawn substitute?

(Amusingly: I currently live in melbourne and have thus far killed off two seed mixes. Looking forward to gardening in Brisbane again. I miss weeds.)

Most living mulch templates are focused on temperate climates. Especially the leguminous ones. One option that did jump out was Fenugreek which you can buy cheap enough as a spice.

The other interesting plant is Medic-- but in normal gardening POV many of the herbs like oregano  would do. Diggers sell temperate climate 'lawn' substitutes'.

Here is a short discussion about functional options.

Of course, living mulches will compete for nutrients and water with the main crop, so you need to take that drawback on board.

I've purchased green manure mixes in the past but found that they don't necessarily thrive in my soil. One I have had success with in Winter is coriander -- again purchased cheaply as a culinary herb. And you get to eat the cut backs. Another useful dual purpose option is Warrigal Greens and the legume, Coastal Jack Bean. Similarly  Gynura procumbens (Longevity Spinach) will cover ground but like the Jack Bean, a tad too structurally vigorous(root and runners)  for easy management.

Then why not pumpkins? That's a living mulch right there.Or sweet potato. I also use Piper lolot (Piper sarmentosum).

Another cheap option is peanut...

Ideas! And a few things I've never heard of - thanks. I do love the idea of having everything smell like fenugreek and corriander though :)

Your garden and my garden are totally different, Dave.  I am sorry that I did not buy a few truckloads of tree mulch before I added trees to my garden.  Besides the house and lawn or grass, about 70% of the space in my yard would be covered with trees in the ground and in tubs, where as you have more low ground vegetation as well as the aerial growth.  Green manure crops would benefit your type of constant production.  

Sometimes when you choose ground covers, you walk a fine line between an invasive growth and a controlled growth.  Plants definitely love to grow with low growth around them. This is totally different to the way we gardened years ago where all was weeded and bare garden soil was a good thing.

With my yard, I would like to chop and drop under each tree, but find that other half picks it all up and puts it on the mulching heap.  I suppose it all ends up back on the ground anyway.

Really our whole yard is living mulch these days, mine maybe has more old cane mulch due to an easy thing to do once a year.

I chop back the trees -- what I have, native and others -- like I've said before in other posts. The limbs or trunks I can't find a use for I throw into the chook pen as landscaping. The tall straight trunks I use as poles  and ladders to hold up my aerials. Nothing leaves the property and I don't chipper.

Since I may plant several times during a year in the one bed I'm keen on versatility and easy management.

If you read the literature I referenced, the argument now is that mulch is only so good but not as enriching as the powerful capacity of plant roots to foster powerhouse soil.

But there is such a thing as weeds -- regardless of how benignly we try to rethink them.

Since I've been throwing lawn clippings on my beds for a decade I should have been exposed to an array of weeds brought in with each load. I'm sure I have many weed seeds outback but I do not have a weed problem of such magnitude that it frustrates me.

I do not like weeding at all. Nowadays, in one sense, I don't weed. Like today I cleared spaces to grow seedlings, protect seedlings and plant seeds.

I'll make a video tomorrow I promise -- but my living mulch  is either Warrigal Greens or Scurvy Weed. Primarily Scurvy weed.

Of all the plants I've explored as ground cover living mulches -- and there have been many over the years -- I'm in awe of Scurvy Weed --Commelina cyanea.

Scurvy weed l(pictured above)looks like and 'seems' to perform like Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis)...but I have inadvertently learnt how to control, manage and exploit it.

Since no one I can find shares a similar boast -- I am a bit anxious about my willingness to celebrate Scurvy Weed. 

It arrived in my garden only 2 years ago via the lawn clippings which are dropped off by my team of lawn mower peeps. For a time I kept removing it as one does with Wandering Jew.

But I kept being nagged by the thought that really it isn't so bad and that 'maybe' it would be a useful ground cover ... if it wasn't a 'weed'.

Now it covers most of my garden beds. I mulch on top of it with lawn clippings and cut Vetiver tillers, but it still prevails.

  • Scurvy Weed forms a thick mat on top of the soil with a shallow root mesh that maybe goes down approx  10cm
  • Contrary to most weeds in my experience it is easy to 'pull'. 'Pull' may be a misnomer as you can scrape or drag it aside like thick moss or Azolla.
  • When raked like that it rolls together with any dry/dead mulch and what you get is more mulch -- but with most of the Scurvy Weed leaves and stems still alive. Like wandering jew this plant survives tenaciously in any cut segments. 
  • If I let the plant grow on and cover a bed completely, I can prep the space by simply using a brush cutter to trim in back. The plant desiccates in a whirl of steam and soon turns into a layer of ready-to-dry mulch. .
  • When Scurvy Weed takes over a  bed it displaces any other potential weed. It let's my seedlings in only because I intervene and create space for planting.
  • My veges continue to grow inside the  blanket of Scurvy Weed so you need to intervene sometimes if they are small seedlings so that they don't get crowded out.
  • How close I can grow Scurvy Weed to particular plants is something I am still experimenting with as there must be some competition for nutrients involved. But so far so good -- and I cannot find any major rooting problems. As the vegetable grow they shade out the Scurvy Weed around them.
  • Of course you can eat Scurvy Weed a la bush tucker and the chooks love it. Underneath, so too do the earthworms. Unlike Tradescantia there is no suggestion that the plant can  cause skin allergies in dogs.
  • From my own observations a drawing on living mulch literature I find the Scurvy jungle to be rich in skinks --  and I  assume other beneficials. Snails don't seem to hide in its tangles and I'm sure traversing a patch to get to my veges would take a snail for ever. The flowers are renown for the ability to attract bees, especially native ones (note that they are blue) and I'm sure the dense greeness effectively absorbs heat and sponsors a significant micro-climate.
  • Looking at the plants carpeting profile, it absorbs rain drops and shields the soil  below from evaporation.

My core problem is that I cannot find any references to using Scurvy Weed like this. Indeed, you'll mostly find the plant being complained about as a relentless weed.

So I don't know how the plant contributes to soil/root interactions and microbiology.I doubt if any research has been done. But compared to other weed options I've had come visit -- give me Scurvy any day.

Mind you, with a festering carpet of green, my garden looks a bit weird. But that's easily fixed. Today i pulled the Scurvy weed aside that was over shadowing my Culantro (Mexican Coriander) plants.I just scraped them aside with a plastic trowel and never broke into the soil. Don't have to.

Similarly, today I also planted three lines of radishes by scarping gullies in the dry mulch and Scurvy coating.

Like parting the Red Sea and I was Moses.

With any thick mulching process you need to mark your Vegetable plants -- even more so with Scurvy Plant as it's green against green. I use sticks. -- twigs I cut from tree trimming and insert them next to my seedlings. That also hinders some of the gregarious activities of the Sacred Ibises who come visit.

Just the same, I do find a brush cutter  an essential tool to tame Scurvy weed. Left to itself it piles up  and  the mat thickens. But a quick whipper snip transforms  the space.

Warrigal Greens performs similarly to Scurvy weed. They taste better -- real good in fact -- but they die back in the warmer months. So I can't rely on them as a living mulch.

I very much prefer living mulch where I can--in my book, dead mulch is only a way to keep the ground covered until the plants take over. In my ornamental beds, I have Evolvulus Blue Eyes everywhere, which I love the look of, the colour and the way it spreads and gently cascades, not to mention the way it brings in the bees. I've tried to get Cousin It going a couple of times, which I believe is a nitrogen fixer in addition to looking funky, but I haven't managed to get it to establish. :(

In my vege patch, I've got creeping oregano over the ground in an expanding section, but during summer I let the sweet potatos vine everywhere which shades the soil and grows crops without me having to go out in the heat to do any maintenance. I've got Hardenbergia "Mini Ha Ha" mulching a potted grape vine, which is the only nitrogen fixer I've managed to make work. I tried to get nasturtium going in my berry beds, but they didn't like it enough to reseed. I'll have to try again. And I've got a bed where I've let mint (gasp!) free to rampage around underneath some shrubs!

I had pumpkin vine over the bottom of the food forest over summer, but it was a bit too tall and aggressive and smothered other plants, even if it had to climb them to do so. It's also a bit prickly and I get a skin reaction when I touch it, which made me reluctant to go into the garden, so I think I'll find the pumpkin its own private area next year and try something else on the ground there.

Well Dave, that is interesting. The ground cover commelina and waragul greens are both herbs as well trads, but it is considered an invasive weed.   Attracting bees is a bonus and shading the ground and still being able to clear the ground cover easily is good.   I wonder if it dies down in the cold weather?  I think they both come under the heading of Family Commelinaceae, the trads and commelina and also the zebrina creeper is in that spiderwort category and T. zebrina has some medicinal benefits.

Lily, I have also had the Blue Eyes plant growing in the garden. It flowers and grows well in the shade, I feel I would catch my feet in it while walking through the garden, but I do like it growing in nooks and crannies. 

I had nasturtium growing as a ground cover and it covered my whole garden area, till we finally pulled it up when it was finished. Then we started covering the ground with cane mulch and the nasturtiums slowly disappeared.  It was so easy to pull up, you could do it in a day. 

This video explore Scurvy weed as a living mulch.


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Vetiver grass helps to stabilise soil and protects it against erosion.  It can protect against pests and weeds. Vetiver is also used as animal feed. (Wiki.)

GrowVetiver is a plant nursery run by Dave & Keir Riley that harvests and grows Vetiver grass for local community applications and use. It is based in Beachmere, just north of Brisbane, Australia.

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