Permaculture Toolkit: Living Mulch

From Plant Pictures

One of the five big “resources” to manage when considering your local environment is the soil. The best long-term way to increase the health and fertility of your soil is to add organic matter – and the least effortful way to do that is to layer the organic matter on the surface of the soil and let existing natural processes break it down for further use. In addition to providing a source of future organic matter in the soil, this mulch preserves water contained in the soil, lessening your need to add additional water; shades the roots of neighboring plants, in most cases making them happier; prevent weeds from growing by depriving them of light; and making your soil microbes happy by reducing your inclination to till underneath it. 🙂

I.e., “Mulch is Good.”

However, you don’t have to restrict yourself to dead shredded cellulose – you can achieve many of these same effects by what we call a “living mulch”, allowing short plants to grow underneath your specimens. In addition to shading the soil and preventing growth of unwanted plants, plants have a vested interest in keeping soil microbes alive and are willing to share their food – secreting nutrients from their roots. Soil is healthier with plants in it, than with just mulch on top, than just bare exposed to the sun –

Wpod sorrel self-seeded in a perennial bed

Example – my ornamental perennial bed has an undercoating of wood sorrel. I love wood sorrel to pieces because it self-seeds, comes in various shades of red and green all in the same seed population, and is edible – its lovely tart lemony flavor makes a great accent to salads. The teeny spiral yellow flowers are edible as well, and decorative.

Wood sorrel flower

I love the journal Agroforestry News – I always find out the most random things. Isn’t it fun when the stuff you’re thinking about already shows up in media all on its own? Chefs in Britain are currently paying up to 50 pounds per kilo for wild-harvested wood sorrel – something which comes up for me all on its own every year without any work on my part. Talk about free food!

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