My garden, orchard and even pasture design is all about companion planting, biodiversity, mulching and any other chemical-free way to prevent, inhibit or break pathogen cycles.
Green mulches form a low growing canopy of plants that increase humidity at ground level and help retain moisture in the soils basically giving all of the same benefits as traditional mulching. A major difference is that the benefits of young wood mulch are lost but replaced with nutrients released when the plants die and decompose. Using a legume as living mulch will also fix nitrogen into the soil from the atmosphere.
What about some plants where companion planting is literally cautioned against. Hops for example are listed has having no companions and that they will crowd out any attempt at companion planting anyway. Are we really limited to just dumping some mulch around the plants and calling it a day?
I think not! That is why I have recently planted almost my entire garden with red clover. To my surprise, the plant is even germinating on young and relatively uncomposted horse manure/bedding mix that occupies two raised garden beds for growing plants next year. Clover will fix nitrogen into the soil between the perennial plants that will crowd out the clover as needed. In the fallow beds, it will do the same while preventing erosion of the soils until they are planted. On the very young compost, the root action should help speed the process along ensuring that it becomes plantable soil by next growing season.
Clover even has applications between trees in the orchards. It can grow outside of the mulch zones giving the orchard soils all the benefits listed above. As the trees grow and the canopies shade it out, woody mulch can replace it.
Clover is my default companion plant for any and all cultivated species. In addition to all of its advantages of being a leguminous mulch, it feeds the native bee as well as my exotic honeybee populations while attracting the pollinators to the garden. It also has the added benefit of being grazed by livestock wherever it is planted. I like to use pigs for any necessary tilling or compost turning. Clover adds nutrition to their diet. Chickens will be housed in temporary hoop houses over garden beds in the winter where they can forage among the dormant clover.
I mention red clover because it grows fantastically here. Check with your local extension or agricultural offices to see which variety grows best in your location. Trefoils (hint: Latin for three + foliage) are a relative of clovers offer all the same benefits in areas where they grow, most notably out west.
I’m such a fan of clovers that I am experimenting with the new trend of clover lawns. I’ll post about that in the future!
To conclude today’s post, clovers are just once example of a living mulch. For example my blueberry beds have a low growing mat of strawberries. I’m not sure if any crop will be had from the strawberries, but they offer living mulch that is tolerant of the low pH soils.