Along with a green grass lawn, traditional suburban landscaping often includes sections the yard—typically in front of the house—containing flowers, plants, and shrubs surrounded by wood-chip mulch.
The mulch serves several important functions; most notably, ensuring the area stays moist—even during a drought—and that weeds don’t have anywhere to grow.
But if you’ve ever worked with certain types of wood-chip mulch, you know that it’s a huge pain to buy (it’s heavy and messy) and spread (it always manages to end up in your eyes, even when they’re protected)—not to mention its terrible smell.
Fortunately, there are several different types of organic and inorganic mulch to choose from, including “green mulch.” Here’s what to know about this mulch alternative.
What is ‘green mulch’?
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Also known as “living mulch,” or “plant mulch,” green mulch involves filling in the gaps in your garden or flower bed with other plants, rather than wood chips, rocks, or other types of traditional mulch.
Or, as Benjamin Vogt, the author of A New Garden Ethic, puts it: “Green mulch is using plants to do the work of wood mulch, and it can simply be lots of plants, dense layers, and compatible plant communities tightly woven together.”
Ecological gardening expert Larry Weaner recommends using a diverse mix of native perennials as green mulch. Not only is it more visually interesting, but it also means you’ll likely have flowers blooming at different seasons—something you and your local pollinators will both appreciate. Plus, native plants have a better chance of long-term survival, and require less maintenance than non-native plants, Weaner told the Berkshire Eagle in a recent interview.
The best plants to use as green mulch
Green mulch will change the look of your landscaping, but with so many different plant and flower options to choose from, it’s extremely customizable.
To help get you started, here are a few of the best plants to use as green mulch, according to Vogt and Weaner:
- White-tinged sedge (Carex albicans)
- Rosy sedge (Carex rosea)
- Sprengel’s sedge (Carex sprengelii)
- Eastern woodland sedge (Carex blanda)
- Fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)
- Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
- Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
- Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)
- Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea)
- Blazing star (Liatris spicata)
- A low-growing meadow seed mix of shorter grasses and flowers
While technically, exotic perennials like Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) and periwinkle (Vinca minor) can be used as green mulch, they spread quickly, and can be difficult to contain. Plus, as Weaner points out, they often invade nearby natural areas, displacing the native flora—another reason he recommends sticking with indigenous plants.