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Super short, perennial ground covers in annual beds  RSS feed

 
Jason Padvorac
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As the title says. I'm planning out some experimentation for this growing season involving very short, perennial ground covers in my annual beds. I'd like to be able to have a constant, living mulch growing among my carrots, onions, garlic, lettuce, and friends. I would love any feedback or suggestions you all might have!

I wrote up some thoughts on my blog here: http://jasonpadvorac.com/2017/02/permanent-ground-covers-for-vegetable-beds/

Here's the core of the post, you can read the whole thing if you want the list of plants I came up with:


We will be experimenting with permanent ground covers in our vegetable beds – specifically planting and allowing perennial plants interspersed with our vegetable crops. The purpose of this is to keep essentially a living mulch to help conserve water, suppress weeds, and to keep the ground covered with leaves engaging in photosynthesis. This will ensure that the life in the soil is being continually fed by root exudates.

I’ll be writing a post later about the biology of the soil that will give much more context to this. 🙂

One important note is that I’m not leaning on these crops to fix nitrogen, a role commonly given to cover crops, although they will certainly help to make nutrients available to the plant by maintaining a vibrant soil food web.

I want to see what it is like to disturb the soil as little as physically possible: sowing or transplanting into fully intact ground covers. No strip tilling, no mowing even. For this reason, they need to be short. I’d love to include dutch clover as a nitrogen fixer, but in most of the annual beds it simply grows too tall. Doing this with crops grown as annuals (like spinach, broccoli, or carrots) is pretty far out. I don’t know how well it will work – this is most definitely experimental.

I made a list of plants starting from Elaine Ingham’s list of perennial cover plants, then finding ones that seemed like they were a good fit for my climate and market farm context. I was looking for plants that:

- Are tolerant of foot traffic
- Are easy and inexpensive to establish but not too aggressive
- Are pretty short, because I’ll be growing these among annuals
- Are not woody, so that if I need to, I can cut or rake them away from the soil easily, and seeding / transplanting tools don’t get gummed up.
- Tolerate wet / moist areas. We get a lot of winter rain, and I will likely be irrigating at least some in the summer – this needs to not kill the plants.
- Tolerate dryness / drought. This is a little at odds with the previous point, but I’m looking for a mix of plants. We have dry summers, and I want to be able to get away with as little irrigation as I can to grow the crops.
- Dense growth habit. I’m looking for plants that will grow densely and cover the soil to protect it from rain compaction, evaporation, and excessive weed seed germination.
 
Su Ba
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I will enjoy following your experiment to see what you come up with, both successes and fails. It should be interesting.

Personally I haven't seen that my annual veggies will thrive in close competition, be it with themselves, weeds, or any other plants. The more competition, the worse they produce . So I'm curious to see what perennial ground covers might actually work. Keep us posted. Thanks,
 
Sally Munoz
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Strawberries? I planted strawberries under several berry bushes (currant, goose and goumi) six years ago and they are a fabulous ground cover with not much else growing up in the thick mat they have created over the years. Last year, I scraped a patch out and planted cress and cauliflower just to see how it would do and they both grew fine. Strawberries don't have a tap root so are super easy to pull out and just plunk down somewhere else or add to the mulch.They spread like crazy here in zone 7. I didn't mean for them to be a living mulch but in that area of the garden, that's what they've become and they are doing a great job. In another area, I water the strawberries a little and keep them a little more under control and they get a lot taller and are way more productive, but the ones that are more of a ground cover stay shorter (maybe because they are so crowded?) and don't produce a huge amount, which is fine because they are doing a different service in that area.
There are wild strawberries that are extremely low growing and some that don't even produce berries (false strawberry?) that stay 2-3" tall. I see those in my wild areas here and could use those if needed, but these Ozark Beauties are spreading like mad and doing what I need.
I'm not sure how well they would work with annual crops on a larger basis and I still added my half rotten leaf mulch around the cauliflower and cress that grew in the berry patch last year, but I think there is definitely potential there and strawberries are my go-to groundcover under all of my berry bushes. I don't have them under my blueberry bushes but if I don't care about the strawberry production, focusing more on their ground covering capabilities, that might not be a bad idea there either.
I honestly have no clue. It's all an experiment over here!
 
Jason Padvorac
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Location: Northeast of Seattle, zone 8: temperate with rainy winters and dry summers.
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Su Ba wrote:Personally I haven't seen that my annual veggies will thrive in close competition, be it with themselves, weeds, or any other plants. The more competition, the worse they produce.


Thanks Su, I certainly will keep you posted! I'm curious - were there any plantings you tried on purpose that competed with the vegetables? And could you tell what the competition was for - light, nutrients, water, space for roots, allelopathic effects? I'd love to hear more about your experiences.

Sally Munoz wrote:Last year, I scraped a patch out and planted cress and cauliflower just to see how it would do and they both grew fine. Strawberries don't have a tap root so are super easy to pull out and just plunk down somewhere else or add to the mulch.They spread like crazy here in zone 7. I didn't mean for them to be a living mulch but in that area of the garden, that's what they've become and they are doing a great job. In another area, I water the strawberries a little and keep them a little more under control and they get a lot taller and are way more productive, but the ones that are more of a ground cover stay shorter (maybe because they are so crowded?) and don't produce a huge amount, which is fine because they are doing a different service in that area.


Ooh, now this is interesting. I had not thought about the height difference that could be expected between dry farmed and irrigated beds. Maybe white clover, strawberries, and other plants that I had been omitting as too tall for the current experiment would be fine if they were grown without supplementary water. Huh. That is something to fiddle with down the road.

One of the things that is so fascinating about this is that there are so many moving pieces - climate, management style, irrigation style, species and varieties of groundcovers, species and varieties of crops. It feels like there must be a lot of ways to fail on the way to figuring out the kinds of combinations that can work. I'm hoping that the sweet spot is pretty broad and easy to hit, though.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Yes strawberries will make an excellent ground cover in our zone.  There are pink pandas, everbearing, June bearing and alpine which are continuous bearing and like shade. I recommend a mixture so they can each find their niche. I have 2 sections of field where strawberries cropped in the distant past. They are leafing out now ahead of the grass. They are to matted and shaded by the grass to produce fruit but they prevent the field daisies from moving in.

Unlike Su Ba We tend to have very deep soil therefor there is room for more plants to complement each other in the root zone. On the other hand we get a few weeks of hard freezes in December and January so we can't keep tropicals without protection. I can send you some new zealand spinach seed both Su Ba and I have good success with it in the shade.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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We have really enjoyed growing dandelions in the garlic patch, or garlic in the dandelion patch, however we think about it.  The dandelions stay close to the ground. The garlic shoots up high above the dandelions. The foliage of the dandelions help keep the soil surface damp. The dandelion leaves shade the soil, so other weeds don't grow.
 
Su Ba
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Jason Padvorac wrote:Thanks Su, I certainly will keep you posted! I'm curious - were there any plantings you tried on purpose that competed with the vegetables? And could you tell what the competition was for - light, nutrients, water, space for roots, allelopathic effects? I'd love to hear more about your experiences.


I haven't purposely planted cover crops in my garden beds, but I have had volunteers show up in the strawberries, plus the chocolate mint spread into the pineapple beds and established itself there. Because I neglected the strawberries, the volunteer dill and cilantro never amounted to much. But the chocolate mint has been thriving in the pineapple beds. Those two crops appear to be able to coexist.

When I first started gardening, I often crowded my crops falsely thinking that by using fertilizer teas I'd be able to produce more food per square foot that way. The veggie plants were poor producing......few beans when crowded, few beets though plenty of greens, thin spindly carrots, small broccoli heads, etc. I also saw that in beds where I didn't have the time to control weeds that grew back, the veggies did just as poorly. Since I really needed that food, I had to come up with a better method ASAP. Thus I switched to mulching and better spacing. Thinking about it, the one crop where crowding might work would be leaf lettuce for baby leaf harvesting. But you couldn't use a perennial cover crop with it.

I'm no agricultural scientist, but I'd venture to say that competition for root space was a major factor.

As for more of my experiences, I relate my homestead food growing in my blog (www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com). I'm not 100% permaculture, but I have gradually changed over to more and more permie techniques. And I have gotten to the point where the homestead provides for 90% of my food. I could be at 100% but I like eating out with friends a couple of times a week, and having coffee at some of the local coffee stands.
 
Jason Padvorac
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Thank you for the strawberry recommendations, Hans! And I would love to try some New Zealand spinach, thank you for offering! I'll send you a PM.

Joseph, I might try that, but I wonder if we have different dandelions (or if our different climates make the dandelions behave differently). Where I'm at, when I grow dandelions in my garden they get about a foot tall - and that is without irrigation!

Sue Ba wrote:plus the chocolate mint spread into the pineapple beds and established itself there.


That sounds like an incredibly delicious arrangement. And I hope that someday I'm producing 90% of our own food.

Thank you for elaborating. Root space sounds like a likely candidate indeed. I expect that in my climate, with very dry summers, water will be the most limiting factor given that I'm trying to dry farm as much as I can. I think your lesson with the pineapple and the chocolate mint is very instructive - the key will be to find which plants get along together, and which don't. Lots of experimenting to do!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Jason Padvorac wrote:Joseph, I might try that, but I wonder if we have different dandelions (or if our different climates make the dandelions behave differently). Where I'm at, when I grow dandelions in my garden they get about a foot tall - and that is without irrigation!


Around here, dandelions grow tall in moist shady places, and hug the ground in sunny dry places. My fields are all in full sunlight.

 
Shane Kaser
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Let your site's weeds lead the way.  Pull all the grasses and woody volunteers.  After that, you're pretty much left with the herbstory, which generally stays under 1' and is easy to keep hoed/chopped off of your crops.  Don't rule out annuals - they are perennial in their own way, springing up from seed in every gap of the canopy.  Here in Portland, I have clovers, prunella, veronica, violets, wood sorrel, chickweed, scarlet pimpernel, poppies, scotch moss, (yes) mints and strawberries, field madder, arugula, radishes, beets, cilantro, borage, quinoa/millet... all (near)self-propagating every year.  I keep a shaker of collected seed that I sprinkle on every bare patch of dirt.

I know you said it's not all about the nitrogen-fixer, but really it should be the foundation of any ground-cover in disturbed sites (annual vegetable beds). I know you said White Clover is too aggressive for you, but you really have to give it a chance.  It is everything you wanted in your list of worthy attributes.  Much less aggressive than mint, but still resilient.  I haven't had much trouble with it overtaking my plants, but I'm also wandering around with a hoe and clippers most evenings of the growing season... And I don't expect too much from any given foot of bed; they should actually be categorized somewhere between vegetable and herb beds...  Herbs are much more at home in this kind of situation, so don't be shy with kitchen herbs; they are the best bang for your DIY-buck compared to supermarket prices.  Sometimes, for a little extra care, I cut a slot to a hole in the center of a piece of cardboard (1-2' square), and slide that onto the crown of a plant - pretty quick and easy root-zone weed-barrier mulch.

To get big, juicy vegetables takes a more active disturbance regime of soil amending and irrigation.  But the ones that had to fight the ground-cover and search deeply for water, they may be smaller and blemished, but I wager they carry at least as much (and probably much more) flavor/nutrition as the equivalent big-juicy (water-filled) specimens.



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Jason Padvorac
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Around here, dandelions grow tall in moist shady places, and hug the ground in sunny dry places. My fields are all in full sunlight.


That makes sense. My garden is not in full sun, and is fairly moist. This year the field I'll be using should have a lot more sun, and probably less moisture, so I'll give them a shot in some of the beds. Thanks!

Shane Kaser wrote:I keep a shaker of collected seed that I sprinkle on every bare patch of dirt.


I love that idea so much! I am totally going to start doing that.

Shane Kaser wrote:I know you said it's not all about the nitrogen-fixer, but really it should be the foundation of any ground-cover in disturbed sites (annual vegetable beds). I know you said White Clover is too aggressive for you, but you really have to give it a chance.  It is everything you wanted in your list of worthy attributes.  Much less aggressive than mint, but still resilient.  I haven't had much trouble with it overtaking my plants, but I'm also wandering around with a hoe and clippers most evenings of the growing season...


I guess I really should experiment with it in at least a few beds. But to make a living from growing vegetables, I have to be able to maintain a large area with fairly little work. As much as possible, I have to optimize away from needing to go around with a hoe and clippers. The goal is to arrive at a place where I mostly just plant and harvest. There are people doing that already, but they use tilthers, weed cover, and other stuff like that which I am trying to avoid.

Shane Kaser wrote:And I don't expect too much from any given foot of bed; they should actually be categorized somewhere between vegetable and herb beds...  Herbs are much more at home in this kind of situation, so don't be shy with kitchen herbs; they are the best bang for your DIY-buck compared to supermarket prices.


...hrm, if the things I was clipping were saleable products, that might do the trick. That'd be stacking "weeding" (or control of overbearing plants) with harvest, which has to happen anyway. That's something to think about.

Shane Kaser wrote: Sometimes, for a little extra care, I cut a slot to a hole in the center of a piece of cardboard (1-2' square), and slide that onto the crown of a plant - pretty quick and easy root-zone weed-barrier mulch. To get big, juicy vegetables takes a more active disturbance regime of soil amending and irrigation.  But the ones that had to fight the ground-cover and search deeply for water, they may be smaller and blemished, but I wager they carry at least as much (and probably much more) flavor/nutrition as the equivalent big-juicy (water-filled) specimens.


I'll be dry farming as much as I can (maybe entirely), and will be getting most of my crops established in the wet season here, with plenty of time to get big roots deep in time for the dry summer. And that's another reason to have super short cover plants - the more leaf surface above ground, the more water they will suck out of the soil. If I can have super short, super water thrifty ground cover plants they might not take too much water. I think you are right that vegetables stressed for water can carry a lot of nutrition, almost certainly more in terms of nutrients per weight, and possibly equal in terms of square feet that went into the production.

It does get a bit complicated because if they are water stressed, they will not be bloated with water, but at the same time the soil food web and their capacity to access nutrients in the soil can be reduced. I think the sweet spot is for the plants to have ready access to soil that is moist enough to be alive, but *not* filled with excess moisture to bulk up with.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Joseph, I might try that, but I wonder if we have different dandelions (or if our different climates make the dandelions behave differently). Where I'm at, when I grow dandelions in my garden they get about a foot tall - and that is without irrigation! 

dandelions have different phenotypes according to soil and sun/temperature conditions. One of the reasons they have been able to spread so widely.  In moist fertile conditions with surrounding plants or structure they will grow large tall leaves which are excellent to eat.  In a sunny lawn they spread th leaves out to smother the surrounding grass and send the flowers up on short holw stems. They can also send up a green stalk with multiple small flowers in drought conditions.
.hrm, if the things I was clipping were saleable products, that might do the trick. That'd be stacking "weeding" (or control of overbearing plants) with harvest, which has to happen anyway. That's something to think about. 
I do that with bok choy. One plant allowed to go to seed is enough to thickly plant a garden bed. It sprouts rapidly suppressing other smaller weed seeds. I just snipped out the largest ones this evening for my salad. In this case it was to fill the surface while the New Zealand spinach gets large enough to hand over the edge of an elevated planter.

I have a wild sorrel That forms a solid low mat in disturbed ground. It survives drought  and produces lemon flavored leaves under favorable conditions. I took a picture but I have not downloaded it yet.  
 
Ken W Wilson
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Henbit might be useful. It ripens and dies in the spring, so might make a mulch with no competition when most vegetables are growing.

Chickweed might work.

Korean Lespedeza might work with bigger garden plants.

All three selfseed very well.
 
Janet Reid
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Is fenugreek an option? I do not know if it is annual or perennial or if it will self seed. I just have a first sprout of them for this purpose: looking for something to keep cover on soil.
 
John Stannum
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Fenugreek is annual. Its leguminous, and might self seed. It doesn't very well for me but I have hard compacted clay that's usually dry.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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My garden is always covered with Sedum (growing like weeds in this poor sandy soil). For planting and sowing I just pull some out and add some compost to that spot. The Sedum grows back and covers the soil again (acting as living mulch). It's a humble plant, not harming anything at all and with very superficial roots. I googled a good picture of it, from a site for 'green roofs'. It blooms with nice whitish flowers.
 
Merry Bolling
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Jason Padvorac wrote:
I’d love to include dutch clover as a nitrogen fixer, but in most of the annual beds it simply grows too tall.

Shane Kaser wrote:
I know you said it's not all about the nitrogen-fixer, but really it should be the foundation of any ground-cover in disturbed sites (annual vegetable beds). I know you said White Clover is too aggressive for you, but you really have to give it a chance.  It is everything you wanted in your list of worthy attributes.  Much less aggressive than mint, but still resilient

I'm a bit confused. Isn't dutch clover a dwarf clover (Trifolium repens) growing 3"-6"? SFGate How to Plant Dwarf White Clover. You might consider another dwarf clover like Trifolium nanum USDA Trifolium nanum.
This thread has convinced me I need to experiment with a ground cover mix of wild strawberry, dwarf clovers, dandelion and the wild violets that grow around here (and some other plants suggested here). Thanks for the inspiration!
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Jason Padvorac wrote:As the title says. I'm planning out some experimentation for this growing season involving very short, perennial ground covers in my annual beds. I'd like to be able to have a constant, living mulch growing among my carrots, onions, garlic, lettuce, and friends. I would love any feedback or suggestions you all might have!

I wrote up some thoughts on my blog here: http://jasonpadvorac.com/2017/02/permanent-ground-covers-for-vegetable-beds/

Here's the core of the post, you can read the whole thing if you want the list of plants I came up with:



- Are tolerant of foot traffic
- Are easy and inexpensive to establish but not too aggressive
- Are pretty short, because I’ll be growing these among annuals
- Are not woody, so that if I need to, I can cut or rake them away from the soil easily, and seeding / transplanting tools don’t get gummed up.
- Tolerate wet / moist areas. We get a lot of winter rain, and I will likely be irrigating at least some in the summer – this needs to not kill the plants.
- Tolerate dryness / drought. This is a little at odds with the previous point, but I’m looking for a mix of plants. We have dry summers, and I want to be able to get away with as little irrigation as I can to grow the crops.
- Dense growth habit. I’m looking for plants that will grow densely and cover the soil to protect it from rain compaction, evaporation, and excessive weed seed germination.

Clover is not a native on this continent but you might try a mini clover or a micro-clover: You would have pretty much all the advantages you are seeking plus you would maintain nitrogen in your soil. Here is a link for this cultivar of Trifolium Repens (not a GMO but a strain selection):   http://www.outsidepride.com/seed/clover-seed/miniclover.html ( I am not connected with The Outside Pride company. Max height is 4" for mini. I'm sure other companies offer this as well.
 
Keith McGill
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Hi. I use wild strawberries, saffron crocus, chickweed, summer purslane, new zealand spinach. Like the idea of white clover, with reservations about it's "friendliness". I'll give it a go.
 
Sally Munoz
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Su Ba wrote:I will enjoy following your experiment to see what you come up with, both successes and fails. It should be interesting.

Personally I haven't seen that my annual veggies will thrive in close competition, be it with themselves, weeds, or any other plants. The more competition, the worse they produce . So I'm curious to see what perennial ground covers might actually work. Keep us posted. Thanks,


I'm defintely gleaning info here too. Most of my annual beds are done using ruth stout type of mulching since I haven't had much success with living mulches. I adore clover and it's all over the place here but I have kept it out of my veggie beds since the place I lived before had it in the beds and it was so competetive. I felt like it was more work than help so my veggies now are mostly grown with chop and drop/leaf mulch.
This thread has inspired me to do some direct comparison areas this year. Same plants and condidtions except living mulch vs. decaying mulch.
Thanks to OP Jason and all the wonderful input form others!
 
Ben Zumeta
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I would agree that white clover has not been much work to plant into. Based on Fukuoka's approach I just peel it back by hand 6"-12" when I plant or put down seed. All the research and observation I have done (Ingram, Fukuoka, Holzer, Mollison, my own experience living and working in old growth forests and wilderness areas for years) seems to show that non alleopathic weeds only really create competition for light (outside of pots). More, taller plants generally lead to more balanced soil moisture, nutrient levels, and generally more capacity for propagating more biomass. Just take trees for example, which through condensation and rain catchment (upwards of 6acres of surface area have to be saturated on a large tree before it runs off) balance moisture around them greatly and increase the phosphorus content of the through fall water but 6-20x (Mollison).  This is exponentially more effective with trees as the get larger but you can extend the principal downscale to your cover crops and they will increase soil moisture in dry times compared to bare earth around a plant.

You can also get a lot of nitrogen without n fixers, though they help. This is because the fauna feeding on your plants (preferably cover crops) will generally leave behind about as much manure as they eat, and in doing so trade what is excessive in your soils for something good they found somewhere else. The more sun you are catching and turning into sugars and proteins (n-fixers help most with this), the more animals and fungus will come in and trade their excess for your land's. Also, does anyone know if sorrels (wood, sheep, redwood etc) are leguminous as their clover like appearance would indicate?
 
Karen Douglass
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Sally Munoz wrote:Strawberries?They spread like crazy here in zone 7. I didn't mean for them to be a living mulch but in that area of the garden, that's what they've become and they are doing a great job.  It's all an experiment over here!

I can relate to that, Sally! I am in zone 4 and they are taking over my little garden patch, beyond where I intended. However, never thought of the possibility of just letting them be and planting in between! Great idea! Thank you.
If it were just an area that could be mowed, oregano takes over as well; it has spilled into our grass and is overcoming it, a nice thick mowable ground cover. The only thing my DH has against it is it makes him hungry for pizza every time he mows there 
 
Hans Quistorff
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I took a picture of what I believe is a sorel. it spreads as a mat on the surface rooting where the stems touch the dirt. It seems to store water in the stems so that they survive dry spells. It tend s to colonize disturbed areas, this spot was degraded 4 years ago by horses standing there.  The leaves are long and pointed with a lob on each side where they come out of the stems. They have a lemon flavor and are excellent in salads.
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this mat is about 2 inches thick
 
Todd McDonald
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I've used the mini clover from outside pride mentioned above. I seeded some into a 20ft section of a raised bed last spring to see how it would work. So far it has performed as advertised, stays very short and not very aggressive. Now that its established I'll keep an eye on it to see if it tries to spread.

Regarding white clover, at least in my area (central Missouri zone 6), I have observed that white clover comes up early in spring, then gets knocked back a little in the summer heat and returns again in the cooler fall temps. It would seem ideal in the role of permanent ground cover so that's why I am giving it a try. 3 years ago I tried red clover and can confirm that this plant is too tall and too aggressive to use as a ground cover for an annual vegetable garden, it's great around fruit trees and pastures though.
 
K.C. King
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How about vetch? Vetch grows native where I live in Zone 7 Oklahoma, and I often leave it in beds where it establishes itself naturally in the Spring. Sometimes I even transplant it into my beds.

When I read about using vetch as a ground cover on websites, they always talk about growing it with grasses or grains like rye or oats, but I find that it makes an excellent ground cover just by itself. In fact, if grown without grasses to grow up, it stays close to the ground and just weaves itself around the base of the plants, thus meeting your "close to the ground" criteria. It also fixes nitrogen, which is an obvious plus.
 
Jonathan Rivera
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I encouraged ground ivy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glechoma_hederacea) to cover my garden beds. It's an imported wild mint that most people loathe because it can cause problems when trying to grow a lawn. It deters and confuses pests, so I can grow brassicas without pest issues. I grew my peppers and cucumbers in it as well, and they did amazing. It kept the soil alive, moist, and protected. On one bed, I threw down about 6 inches of pine mulch over it, but that seamed to encourage it.  It colonized the entire bed within a few weeks. It's beautiful, lush, smells great, doesn't grow more than 6 inches and has a host of uses. The roots are pretty shallow, and they generally stayed within the first few inches of soil and in the mulch. It wouldn't work with small greens, but asian greens and kale should be able to grow with it. Just know that it's a mint. Once it's there, it won't be going away quietly. It just happened to me and I went with it.
 
Kit Veerkamp
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Two other groundcovers you might consider are sweet alyssum and creeping thyme. Super easy to grow from seed and persistent. And they help attract and feed a host of beneficial insects to boot.
 
Jonathan Rivera
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Kit Veerkamp wrote:Two other groundcovers you might consider are sweet alyssum and creeping thyme. Super easy to grow from seed and persistent. And they help attract and feed a host of beneficial insects to boot.


+1 for creeping thyme. I flipped some sod and threw two packs of the seed on the west side of my house and it completely dominated. Barely any weeds there now. Not sure if annuals can grow in it well, though.
 
Gale Zimmerman
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Location: Tomales, CA
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We grow an acre garden using no-till beds for vegetables. I love the idea of a very low permanent cover. But I can't imagine that a veggie transplant, let alone a seed, will be able to compete successfully within it.

That said. . .

Two 1/2" matting clovers grow here, a green one and a red one. I haven't succeeded in identifying them. I've tried using them in beds with broccoli, carving out a circle in the mat to transplant it in. (Our volunteers weeded it out, so I can't report on the experiment.)

Johnny-Jump-Ups, viola cornuta, spread into an aisle. I plan to leave it because I think it will make the kind of permanent cover you are looking for.

The cover would have to be dense not to grow any weeds in it, and it would be a nightmare to weed. If you were growing in a bed you have created at least 4" above the original soil with its inevitable seed bank, and if your 4" were truly seed-free, and did't melt away down to one inch within a year, so that your only weeds come from seeds falling from the top, maybe it would not be so hard to weed.

I look forward to hearing how your experiment goes. I'd love to repeat your successes!
 
Jonathan Rivera
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[quote=Gale Zimmerman]We grow an acre garden using no-till beds for vegetables. I love the idea of a very low permanent cover. But I can't imagine that a veggie transplant, let alone a seed, will be able to compete successfully within it.[/quote]

Yeah, I wouldn't think you can direct seed anything in a permanent ground cover. Fukuoka used clover successfully by suppressing it by flooding. If you mimic the concept somehow, maybe by dropping 3-4 inches of compost over and planting, you may give your seeds a big enough head start to thrive. Other than that, I would stick to strong transplants that con compete, squash, beans,
corn, tomatoes, peppers, etc. I actually think it's quite easy to establish a strong living mulch that will suppress weeds though. You'll just need to find out what works for your soil and climate. Attached is a picture of the creeping thyme I established with no weeding, just flipped sod and threw seed down. Didn't even water, timing is key though.
IMG_3006.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_3006.JPG]
Creeping thyme is on the right. Two varieties, the purple flowering version was from the nursery, and it grew much slower than the one I seeded.
 
Casie Becker
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I've been holding of on commenting because this year is the real test.  I've been letting a slow spreading, low growing ground cover establish itself in a garden bed.  Saffron came up and did well during the winter.  I cleared a tiny patch and have direct seeded squash there, now.  It's too soon to know if it's going to work.  Even if it doesn't, I'd be willing to try other ground covers.  I've never heard of anyone using frog fruit for this purpose, but since it was already present it seemed an ideal opportunity for an experiment.  I'll definitely be reporting success or failure on these forums.
 
Francis Graf
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Location: Milwaukee, WI
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Looking to do the same here in WI, zone 5b, will be following this thread closely.

Considering two methods:


no till living/dead mulch,  planting winter rye, crimp rolling and using a small seeder like this.
http://www.morrisonseeders.com

This would allow for one person to do much more work.

Or

A true living mulch like you are trying for.

Here are some plants I have been considering;
http://www.outsidepride.com/seed/ground-cover-seed/irish-moss-groundcover-seed.html
http://www.outsidepride.com/seed/clover-seed/ladino-clover-seed.html
http://www.outsidepride.com/seed/ground-cover-seed/creeping-thyme/creeping-thyme-mother.html
http://www.outsidepride.com/seed/ground-cover-seed/saxifraga/saxifraga-groundcover.html

I am leaning towards the living mulch because we dont have a ton of land [3/4 ace], plenty better ways to spend money than on equipment, and have plenty of help.
 
Jonathan Rivera
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I just found a great resource from Elaine Ingham, http://www.soilfoodweb.com/Cover_Plants.html.
 
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