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Top 5 soil building herbaceous multifunctional plants

 
gardener
Posts: 357
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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What would you say the best soil building plants would be? Lets say we start with Comfrey, Nettles and Yarrow... what other plants would you put in this category?
 
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
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Sounds like you're leaning towards perennial?
 
Isaac Hill
gardener
Posts: 357
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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Yeah, apologies, should have written that, I my mind it was implied. Definitely looking for perennial plants.
 
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
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Dandelion, chamomille. I would say cannabis, but there are some restrictions with that, and it's not perennial.

Also, Mulberry leaves are edible when young and concentrate calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. It makes a great tree for coppice/pollarding to make berries easier to pick and get bushy tender leaf growth through most of the year.

Basswood (linden, lime in UK) also has edible leaves which concentrate calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.

Those ones aren't herbaceous, obviously, but they can be pruned as shrubs.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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soil building,

well that might mean leaving things in the soil..such as a green manure crop, or something like diakon rotting in the soil. I've been told that sweet potato is, and I'd say swiss chard.

Rhubarb is a good "leaf crop" like comfrey..and horseradish is too, but not where you will be moving soil around..
 
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Some of my current favorites for my region

Lupine - N-fixer, deep roots, insectiary,pretty, self sows
Sorrel - deep root, lots of leafy mulch, edible, easy to divide and stuff roots


Cant resist mentioning the woody pioneers.
Alder - Fast growing, N-fixer, good fuel and tool wood, OK mushroom wood,
Cottonwood - coppices well, N-fixer, medicinal buds, OK mushroom wood, grows from livestakes, lots of big leaves
Blue eldberberry - grows faster than red elder or the e-coast or eurasians, insectiary, grows from cutting, berries OK, coppices well

I think of my soil building plants as real sacrifice plants, I am looking for easy cheap establishment and rapid biomass. both leaves and for hugelbeet. They are always getting hacked and chopped.
 
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Id have to testify to sweet potatoe. They did an amazing job on some mild to nasty clay. I poured mulch onto them a few times over a few years. When I finally pulled them out, some 3 years later, the soil was truely improved to a gorgeous deep loam, easy friable. Highly impressed.
 
Posts: 196
Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Soil building through use of herbaceous plants ... I am very interested in the topic. I've managed to work out a strategy for improving my soil, but it doesn't involve plants (it consists of growing potatoes under very thick mulch / sheet compost for a season or two, then shifting the remains of the mulch onto the next lot - a travelling compost heap, as it were).

However, from the various contributions in this thread so far I haven't been able to distill a strategy for using the herbaceous plants that some of you guys mentioned, other than cutting down their foliage & using it as mulch / adding it to compost. Is there any other way? Talking specifically about the deep-rooted herbaceous perennials - comfrey, dandelion, horseradish (of which I have plenty on my plot) - how do we use these?

I've heard hypotheses that their deep root system may make nutrients more available in the top layers of the soil, but the problem is, some plants that would benefit most from these nutrients may not be very happy near the lush foliage of horseradish or comfrey.

L_

 
pollinator
Posts: 439
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Good replies here! For my region and soils, I would have to add buckwheat, radish, and clover - they seem to always have a place in raised beds, food forest, and oldfield...
 
Isaac Hill
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Posts: 357
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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Levente Andras wrote:

However, from the various contributions in this thread so far I haven't been able to distill a strategy for using the herbaceous plants that some of you guys mentioned, other than cutting down their foliage & using it as mulch / adding it to compost. Is there any other way? Talking specifically about the deep-rooted herbaceous perennials - comfrey, dandelion, horseradish (of which I have plenty on my plot) - how do we use these?

I've heard hypotheses that their deep root system may make nutrients more available in the top layers of the soil, but the problem is, some plants that would benefit most from these nutrients may not be very happy near the lush foliage of horseradish or comfrey.

L_



The plants just being there help. In a polyculture orchard fruit trees are definitely going to like comfrey, dandelion and horseradish which all benefit the tree with minerals accessible via their decomposing leaves, and root systems that don't compete with the tree's roots... much better than grass which competes with the tree's roots and doesn't supply much nutrition. These are all great answers, I've never had good luck with Lupine before though, I don't know why. I've tried several kinds. I'm thinking Dock (rumex) - bigger leaves then the Sorrel part of rumex- might be a good one too... but I'm really interested in the long term ones that grow a lot of biomass and get the most bang for your buck in smaller areas.
 
Matt Smith
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
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Holy hell, my property is a carpet of dandelion blossoms this week.

Makes me glad I never do anything to deter them. The old garden plot that the previous owners kept is very spent soil, and is now a mess of dandelions and clover... couldn't have planted it better myself.

I marvel at nature, most times.
 
Posts: 106
Location: Central Indiana
17
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I know sweet potatoes are supposed to be good soil builders.  Has anyone had luck leaving them in ground over winter (Zone 6A) and getting more the next year?  Or since they're native to warmer areas does the cold kill them off in the winter?
 
pollinator
Posts: 3126
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Sunchokes should do well as soil-builders. They grow a lot of biomass aboveground, and you can harvest tubers all you like, and unless you sieve the soil, you will likely leave enough tuber pieces to sprout again and thrive the next year.

Hemp also produces a lot of biomass, but that can be said for mammoth sunflowers, too. If there are any legal issues in your area, I would go the sunflower route, as it can both produce seed and will act as an insectiary plant in-season. Also, unless you run chickens under the sunflowers at the end of the season, you will likely get volunteers the next season.

Most grasses intended for lawns are great soil-builders. It's just that they need to be contained to pathways and transitional areas that would otherwise be bare or mulched, and they need to be cropped by grazers or mowed, and the clippings used as mulch or compost greens.

It depends on the ultimate uses the land is to be put to, but I find that transitional areas and strips that most non-permies would put in lawn are best-managed with pollinator and feed-the-birds mixes, which often comprise both soil-building and pollinator-feeding plants.

And border rows of comfrey are not only great for soil-building; I find that they exclude aggressively spreading groundcovers and herbs quite well.

-CK
 
Jonathan Ward
Posts: 106
Location: Central Indiana
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For Comfery do you prefer the verities that only spread by splitting their roots or ones that have live seeds and can spread that way as well?
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I think it depends on the severity of the winters where its used, and the specific circumstance.

Most invasives are safer in climates with longer, colder winters, though that's no guarantee. I would treat comfrey that spreads from seeds as such, and choose the non-seed-bearing variety for exclusionary borders that I don't want taking over everything.

-CK
 
gardener
Posts: 6284
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Isaac Hill wrote:What would you say the best soil building plants would be? Lets say we start with Comfrey, Nettles and Yarrow... what other plants would you put in this category?



Others have offered up their favorites and they are all good choices.

I will offer up this tidbit; when you want to start building soil in a particular plot it is wise to first come to the decision of what that plot is going to be ultimately used for.
If it is a pasture then that end use should dictate the types of plants you use as your cover crops (soil building is more about using the right cover crops for the job at hand, we want to make sure the correct microorganisms want to come live there).
If you are going to put in orchard or vineyard plants that would dictate a different set of plants be used for cover cropping since you will need more fungi than bacteria in your microbiome ratio.
If you are going for vegetable gardens then again, the plantings will be chosen for building a soil with around a 50:50 mix of fungi and bacteria, then when you plant your garden the microbiome will be adjusted by each plant type using their exudates and electro pulses to attract the organisms they most desire.

One other thing to remember is that if you are trying to use plants as mineral miners, you have to understand that those "miners" are going to have to be used as mulch or the acquired minerals will simply stay within the plant that brought them up.
Cover crops are by definition plants grown with the understanding that they will at some point be killed off to release the nutrients they have gathered up and new plants will be put in their place.

Redhawk
 
Jonathan Ward
Posts: 106
Location: Central Indiana
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The future of the area is garden and an entry level food forest.  Right now it is a suburban lot.  Looking at making it productive for more than just grass.  I let my dandelion and clover grow where it can and am attempting a persimmon from seed.  It has wintered here so hopefully this spring I will have a sprout.
 
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