natural ground cover

Fill in the Gaps with Living Mulch

Imagine a row of maple trees. They’re all in a line, perfectly spaced a few feet apart. It sounds appealing, right? Well, those spaces in-between are actually an open invitation for weeds to put down roots. We can understand the effects of this arrangement when we compare plants to humans. When we don’t have our friends and family close to us, we become lonely and get all sorts of health problems. It is the same for plants; it brings stress, and it makes the plant more susceptible to disease and pests! It is essential to have a close-knit community. Nature is ever our example, and this case is no different. In nature, we don’t see a lot of distance between plants and shrubs; rather, we see an untamed medley of plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees coexisting and supporting each other.

As we fill up empty spaces around our perennials with living plant material (also called “living” or “green” mulch), the outcome is outstanding: everything planted in the garden is healthier! When we plant with intention around a perennial or shrub, it can help cool the roots, retain water, and even help it grow bigger and stronger. As this plant becomes more and more robust, it will require less watering, and it will have a natural shield against pests and illnesses. Typically, sedges and other ornamental grasses are a great use for green mulch. However, as a bonus, you can repel unwanted visitors to your plants by surrounding it with garlic, onion, basil, or marigolds — and end up with a bonus food crop as well. Through decreasing these spaces around plants, we end up creating an ecosystem that circulates nonstop nourishment!

Here in Macomb and Oakland, we have vast wildernesses of turfgrass, boxwoods, and yews. To our pollinators, these are wastelands. They don’t provide food; only a little shelter for some. Invite pollinators to join in on your garden nourishment festivities by educating yourself on the host plants for your area and which perennials or annuals will welcome them to your corner of the world.

Establishing your gardens with living mulch can be done all at once, either anytime during the growing season, or one plant at a time. It is also important to understand which environment these plants will thrive in. Some options are in the shade, in the sun, and with “wet or dry feet.” This means that the soil is more moist, or more on the dry side. To find out what is considered shade or sun from the plants’ perspective, click here.

The best time to begin strengthening your garden via living mulch is now! Our top tip: if you are trying to fill a large space, consider your options below, from lowest price to highest.

  • Seeding: sprinkling seeds on the ground or planting them according to their package instructions; the cheapest way to incorporate living mulch.
  • Plugs: smaller plants, about one inch in diameter and 4-6 inches deep. They cost a little more than seeds because they are raised in a greenhouse. This means it is already a strong, healthy plant with a solid root system; and it is completely set up to take root in your garden. They don’t even have to compete with weeds because they are more mature and on their way to stardom!
  • Plants: nearly fully-grown perennials; immediately get to see the look you want, planted right in your garden. Costs the most out of these three options.

If you are feeling overwhelmed about where to start, we would love to hear from you and point you in the right direction so feel free to contact us for garden coaching. Otherwise, get started and share with us how it goes!

Until next thyme,
My Thyme Gardens

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