Adding ground covers to your fruit tree guild is a great idea. While you can add mulch into your food forest, by including a living mulch you are both improving the soil, saving water, and adding in another food crop.
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Here are some great ground covers for your food forest:
If you would like to grow Chamomile as a ground cover, make sure you plant the Roman variety. Once established it can be a lawn replacement as it grows from rhizomes. It is lower growing than German Chamomile, which means you won’t need to mow it like you would grass.
Both German and Roman Chamomile have a wide variety of uses as a tea. It’s classically used for relaxation and encouraging sleep. If you want to save the flowers for medicinal uses, here are some ways to dehydrate them without electricity.
Clover is a great nitrogen fixer, but it is also useful as a ground cover. You can walk on it, mow it, or cut it back where it grows to increase soil fertility. Plus bees love it!
For a short term ground cover, consider cucumbers. It’s a great living mulch for sunny spaces where your trees have not yet grown to cover. Plus you get to harvest the cucumbers for eating or pickles, then let the vines build the soil at the end of the season.
Surprisingly, hostas are edible. You can eat the young shoots like asparagus in the spring. They make a great ground cover because they thrive in shade and last all season long. Plus they will come back year after year!
Like cucumbers, melons make a great ground cover for those sunny patches between trees. They’ll keep your ground protected and you get delicious fruit!
Nasturtiums are one of the most popular companion plants for vegetables because they attract beneficial insects, repel harmful insects, and are edible themselves! Don’t hesitate to add them into any sunny niche.
Oregano is one of my favorite ground covers because it is dense and spreads itself, but not overwhelming. It smells nice and holds up well if you need to walk on it, but it doesn’t have to be mowed at all. Plus you can harvest it for use in the kitchen!
Like oregano, parsley is a good herb to use when filling in blank spaces in your landscape. It has many culinary uses, and it contains many nutrients. You will need to plant it each year however.
If you replant every year, you can grow peanuts as a ground cover and as a food crop, but there is also a ornamental peanut plant that can replace lawn. It is perennial and also has an edible flower.
Like cucumbers and melons, pumpkins will very happily provide a living mulch to cover your ground during the growing season. They like sunshine and lots of space to spread out, but on the plus side you can grow your own jack o’lanterns!
While rhubarb plants are not traditional ground covers, it generally grows very quickly and doesn’t need much water. It will readily spread and grow happily almost anywhere you put it. You can also chop and drop the leaves when you harvest the stalks to mulch in place.
Virtually any salad green can be popped into blank spaces in your garden. They don’t need much space to grow. Also, they grow well in shade and are a great way to add another crop when you don’t have much available space.
If you want to grow strawberries as a ground cover you have a few options. You can grow any variety, but if you want a lot of runners to cover a lot of ground select a June bearing fruit. If you’re filling in a very shady spot wild strawberries are best, particularly the woodland strawberry.
Need a sunny space filled and quickly? Opt for squash. When we put our house up for sale I filled in blank spaces in our landscape with various squashes. Plus if you grow winter squash it will store for months in a cool pantry.
Sweet potatoes grow quickly from stem cuttings and quickly fill in food forests. They will only last one season but they are a great option for warm weather locations.
Like oregano, thyme is a wonderful herb for ground covers. It spreads well, lasts many seasons, is walk-able, and smells great. Plus you can use it in the kitchen. It goes great in sweet pea soup!
Wherever you have a patch of bare ground, pop in one of these ground covers to help keep your food forest lush, productive, and beautiful.
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