The Great Debate: Ground Cover Plants vs. Mulching for Winter
As Winter approaches, we have been seeing a lot of information on how to best leave your soil over the Winter – by planting ground cover plants or heavily mulching your space. We see merits on both sides and have a preference for our own gardens (more on that at the end) so let’s explore the benefits!
Ground Cover Plants
The goal of any ground cover plant or crop is to keep weeds down between plantings and to help keep the soil from drying out (and killing off the helpful bacteria). Some plants (red clover, field peas, fava beans) help replenish nitrogen and also draw helpful insects to your garden. As an added bonus, you can get some product from a couple of these! Another interesting plant type in the cover crop space is Comfrey – this plant is called a Dynamic Accumulator and is so rich in nutrients, many compare the impact of decaying Comfrey to manure in terms of helping keep your soil rich in nutrients. Daikon radishes are another good cover crop – and may perform best when left in the soil to decompose as this maximizes their ability to aerate and open pathways for water and oxygen to permeate the soil next growing season.
Even if you are a raised bed gardener (like we are at Eco Garden Systems) these same tips are often recommended if you have “elevated” your garden game. Another tip we have seen is to use strawberries as a long-term answer to cover crops (meaning during the growing season) and let your taller plants grow above this “bed”. This can work very well if you are a tomato or pepper afficianado as those two veggie types will easily grow above those strawberries. An alternative here is Oregano if you are more into herbs – this plant spreads (the aggression level will vary with varieties) and is pretty hearty even when roots are disturbed.
Mulching for Winter
If your growing season is too short and will not support a Winter long cover crop, perhaps mulching is for you. We prefer this type of cover for our raised garden beds as watering an Eco Garden late in the year creates some challenges with the water reservoir that we prefer to avoid. Our favorite method is the Lasagna Method – which takes a little planning and very little time.
First, cut your plants off at soil level – leaving the roots in will help with aeration. Then cover the soil with a layer of grass (here is where the planning comes in – make sure that no weed killer has been used on the grass. In Minnesota, we typically stop using weed killer in late August so this should not be a problem) followed by a layer of leaves, another layer of grass, leaves, grass then leaves. Four total layers is sufficient (we use six and spread them thinner so the brown/green interaction happens) and you should let the elements have some time to play with your lasagna before you cover for the Winter. For our Eco Gardeners, always cover your Eco Garden to prevent moisture from freezing in the reservoir.
So, two ways to “Winter” your garden. What other ideas do you use and what questions about our suggestion do you have? Contact us and we will help you #GardenDifferent.