There are many plants you can grow for mulch purposes, but we have a few outstanding performers worth noting. Two in particular were gifted to us as "cuttings", so what better way to start than with free plants. At the time they were given, we had no idea how useful they would become.
I wrote about mulching our new banana plants with lemon grass recently, which happens to be one of our favourite plants to use for mulching. It grows in a big clump which you can divide every year if you want to - but let me warn you, they're neither easy to dig up or to divide!
Lemon grass and an artichoke!
Here is one of our lemon grass clumps, a few days after a hair cut. Look at that new growth reaching for the sky. Lemon grass really loves this kind of treatment - they languish slowly, looking all the more dishevelled when their brown skirts don't get trimmed. We tend to cut ours in late spring (after they've flowered) mostly because the leaves are partially dry, but also because the seed heads make good mulch also. To date, none of our clumps have reseeded themselves.
What I particularly love about using lemon grass as a mulch however, is the lovely fragrance they give off once they're freshly cut in the late afternoon. They've had all day to warm up the lemony scent and once cut and laid, you'll walk past them again and again just to catch a whiff! But that's not the only wonderful performer we use as a mulch...
This is a Cana Lily and is easily divided by the underground rhizome. The one above was recently cut for mulch and is already growing more leaves. I have found the more you cut them back, the fatter the stem you get! These really grow very quickly and it's just as well too, because once you cut them, they break down very quickly. In fact, you better like where you plant your Cana Lilies because they're very difficult to remove permanently, short of using chemicals that is.
Young Papaya or otherwise known as Paw-paw
planted this year
planted this year
They will pop up from the smallest amount of rhizome left in the soil afterwards, like what happened when I thought I had cleared a spot for a much anticipated Paw-Paw (above) but then the Cana's started to rise from the ground. I tried cutting them back continually, but the more I did the fatter the stalks got. Here is a better picture of how close the Cana Lily's are growing to the Paw-Paw.
Surrounded by Cana Lilies
These were a little too close for comfort, as they were impeding air flow and with the rising temperatures it caused mould to form on the Paw-Paw leaves. Not a problem though, as I couldn't have a closer supply of mulch (ready to chop and drop) if I tried! You can see some of the leaves on the ground already and how they've browned. This Paw-Paw will need more than that to keep it happy though. If you want to know more about growing Paw-Paws, try visiting Tropical Permaculture Gardens on growing Papayas.
This is the first time I've tried growing Paw-paws (or papayas) and I'm told this particular variety it's a hermaphrodite, meaning it is self-fertile. Most Paw-paws grow separate male and female trees, so we'll have to see how mine performs.
There is another mulch plant we grow here, and that's a Pigeon pea Tree. It has the benefit of sequestering nitrogen from the air and does absolute wonders for poor soil. Most of the trees we have, we plant near fruit trees and do an annual chop and drop. But with a little strategic planning, nature can do the work for you!
Pigeon Pea (left) Persimmon (right)
This one was planted next to a Persimmon, to be a wind break, but we weren't expecting it to droop over the retaining wall the way it has. It drops it's leaves right on top of the garden we have underneath.
growing under the retaining wall
This is a Dwarf Bamboo and it doesn't seem to mind the dappled shade the pigeon tree provides during the day, or the mulch it drops. Quite an accidental arrangement but gives us plenty of ideas for the rest of our slopes!
The Pigeon Pea in the photo is actually getting a little old and probably could use a heavy cut back. Pruning encourages leaf growth which means extra mulch, but you should plan to replace your trees after a few years. You won't have a problem with seeds as they are prolific producers of them. Which reminds me, I need to plant a few more this year.
Now as I mentioned at the very beginning, there are many plants you can grow for the purposes of producing mulch. I thought Permaculture Pathways (or Sonya more specifically) did an excellent job describing other varieties and the benefits of growing your own mulch.
Nutrient cycling with mulch
Growing your own mulch
It should bear mentioning that the Cana Lily Sonya refers to (or the Arrowroot) is a different variety to the one I have. In fact, mine is the flowering variety and while the bright orange flowers are very pretty, they're quite poisonous. Not a problem if you're just using them for mulching purposes though.
Does anyone else have success growing their own mulch?