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What is Living Mulch?

A living mulch is a type of mulch composed of living plants that are grown alongside the main stars of your garden. Unlike traditional mulches such as wood chips or straw, which are laid on the soil surface, living mulches actively grow in the same space as your primary plants.


What is a living mulch white clover ground cover for your garden

Living mulches, also known as ground covers, offer several benefits to a garden:

  1. Weed suppression: Living mulches compete with weeds for sunlight, water, and nutrients, thereby reducing weed growth. The dense growth of living mulch plants can shade out weed seedlings and prevent them from establishing.

  2. Soil erosion control: The roots of living mulch plants help bind soil particles together, reducing erosion caused by wind and water. This helps to maintain soil structure and prevent nutrient loss.

  3. Moisture retention: Living mulch plants act as a natural barrier, reducing evaporation of soil moisture and helping to maintain consistent soil moisture levels. This can be especially beneficial during hot and dry periods.

  4. Nutrient cycling: Living mulch plants contribute organic matter to the soil as they grow and eventually decompose. This organic matter improves soil structure, enhances microbial activity, and releases nutrients that can be taken up by the main crops.

  5. Biodiversity support: Living mulches provide habitat and food sources for beneficial insects, such as pollinators and natural predators of pests. This can help increase biodiversity and promote a more balanced ecosystem within the garden or agricultural system.

  6. Temperature moderation: The dense foliage of living mulch plants can help moderate soil temperatures by providing shade and insulation, which can be particularly beneficial during extreme heat or cold spells.

 

In Groton, several species of clover as well as creeping thyme can be used as living mulch in gardens, depending on factors such as soil type, climate, and specific garden needs.


Clover (Trifolium spp.): White, Red, and Dutch Clover are a common living mulch choice due to their ability to fix nitrogen, which benefits surrounding plants. It forms a dense mat of foliage that suppresses weeds and adds nutrients to the soil.


white clover in bloom a living mulch groundcover

Photo Credit Wikipedia

 

Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum): Creeping thyme is a fragrant herb that forms a low-growing mat of foliage and produces small, pink or purple flowers in summer. It is drought-tolerant once established and provides weed suppression.


creeping thyme in bloom with purple flowers living mulch ground cover

Photo Credit Wikipedia

 

Canada Windflower (Anemone canadensis) is a fast-growing ground cover that is excellent for areas prone to erosion. This option requires you to keep an eye on its growth as it can be a vigorous spreader and may win the competition with other plants in your garden.


Canada wildflower living mulch ground cover with white flowers

Photo Credit Epic

 

Field Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) or Plantain Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) are a great drought-resistant option that does well in sunny areas with rocky soil and would work well to create a living mulch under trees and around shrubs. They are known to attract pollinators, too.


two different types of pussytoes are living muclch ground cover options

 

Canada Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is perfect for shady areas that might require a living mulch with a bit more height. These heart-shaped leaves can reach 3-6 inches and support maroon flowers when in bloom.

 

Wild ginger with maroon flower living mulch ground cover

 

Red Bearberry (Arcostaphylos uva-ursi): is a sun-loving ground cover that grows to 3-6 inches high. It requires protection from deer until established after its first year. This plant is a creeping evergreen that provides year-round interest from its changing leaf color to its bright red berries that support everything from pollinators to birds and wildlife.


Red bearberry with fruits and in the winter a living mulch ground cover for your garden

 

Before selecting a living mulch, it's essential to consider factors such as the desired height, growth habit, soil conditions, sun exposure, and maintenance requirements. Additionally, some options (not listed here) may be considered invasive in Massachusetts, so choosing species that are well-suited to the local ecosystem is essential.

 

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