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Living or Dead Mulch?

 
master steward
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Location: Zone 7b/8a Temperate Humid Subtropical, Eastern NC, US
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Which is your preference?

I used to use mostly dead mulch, but have recently switched to using mostly living mulch. The living mulch eventually turns into dead mulch, so it has the benefits of dead mulch and helps build the soil, and then more living mulch comes up to replace it.

I really like using a wild mulch (no planting required) and love how living mulches provide an extra "canopy" for the soil and also provide great pollinator and beneficial insect habitat.

The living mulches may been a little more effort in the beginning for annuals, cutting them back some to allow the young crops to get established. But after that there's generally no or very little weeding required. For a food forest, where the plants are bigger, it has required almost no work at all.

Which one and what kind do you like to use and why?

Have you switched from one to the other or use different ones for different things?
 
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7 AHS:4 GDD:3000 Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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When I 1st started my food forest I did a living much of daikon radish to "plow up" my compacted soil and dutch clover to fix 250lbs of nitrogen/acre. I also planted a few annuals/tomatoes between my tiny fruit trees. The tomatoes even self-seeded for a couple years with the other two.

Then after my fruit trees got bigger, I switch over to woodchip, then I started growing mushroom and I got firewood pellets. Since then my food forest is going back to living mulch.
 
Steve Thorn
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Your post S Bengi got me thinking back on two different areas of my food forest. In both sections I did some earthworks, and the soil was poor in both spots.

In one section I didn't do anything, and the soil got baked and hardened by the sun. In the other, I cut some wild plants that were growing in that spot and laid them down as mulch over the earthworks. The mulched soil started sending up new plants everywhere, while the unmulched area struggled in a lot of places for plants to get growing.

It's amazing the difference mulch can make!
 
pollinator
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Steve, which plants do you like best for your living mulches?

I haven't had a lot of success yet with living mulches, but I'd really like to figure it out. I've been a little worried about using perennials since they kinda take over. Nevertheless, i decided this year I'm going to let the clover spread on the beds it tends to grow in anyway and see how that goes.

The problem for me with using annuals is that my growing season is short enough that the mulch doesn't get established any quicker than the crop, and then they both suffer in the summer heat.

One annual that has worked really well for me is Valerianella locusta/lamb's lettuce/mache. It reseeds itself everywhere, even in places I don't expect it to. It comes up in the fall, goes dormant over winter, then takes off early in the spring, before pretty much anything else. It's low growing, so it doesn't shade anything too badly to begin with. It bolts and dies off over summer, leaving a dead mulch that doesn't compete with anything - and lots of seeds!
 
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Definitely LIVING mulch in my climate (hot, dry, mediterranean…)

I share all the living mulch plants I use and my reasons and results here:
https://permies.com/t/157111/Living-Mulch-Mediterranean-Food-Forest
 
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The two main types of living mulches I use are creeping thyme and white dutch clover. I like both in and near the garden because of all the beneficial insects the flowers bring in. Also they're good cover for beetles and ground spiders especially after the warm season annuals get frosted.

Also I'll let a number of veges go to seed that also serve as chop and drop, ground cover or get harvested. Radishes are good as I like to snack on their seed pods. I'll also let mizuna, swiss chard, lettuce, kale, dill, parsley, arugula, mustard, orach and others go to seed.
 
Steve Thorn
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Jan White wrote:Steve, which plants do you like best for your living mulches



Heal-All Prunella vulgaris is one of my favorites for annuals or smaller plants. It only grows a few inches tall, has nice flowers, and is medicinal. I also like henbit, chickweed, deadnettle and other low growing, well behaved plants for annuals.

In my food forest I let pretty much anything grow unless it is harmful like poison ivy, or if it starts to overgrow the food plants.
 
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