Chop and Drop Mulch: 12 Plants to Grow for Green Mulch

Mulching is one of the best things you can do for a garden. Here’s how to make mulch right on site by growing plants that are — essentially — instant chop and drop mulch.

Mulching is particularly useful in regions that are facing drought or water shortages. Read more about drought tolerant gardening here to save on water!

comfrey plant


 

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Getting Started with Chop and Drop

One of the kind of “aha” ideas I’ve learned from delving into the idea of permaculture is that of starting with non-productive crops.

In other words, instead of planting fruiting trees and plants right off the bat, it makes sense to plant fast-growing plants and trees that can be used as “chop and drop” mulch to help build the soil first.

The idea of composting and mulching is not new to me, but I tend to be a bit impatient. I want to grow food now. As the video below shows, there are just some situations that require patience.

buckwheat plant with white flowers

How to make mulch – grow it!

The most important feature of crops used for chop and drop mulch is that they grow quickly. They generate a lot of potential green waste that can be clipped or pruned regularly to add mulch to the soil surface. In using this method, you’re essentially replicating what Mother Nature does in a lush forest. As leaves and branches drop in a forest, they break down and create a thick, spongy layer of compost.

By mimicking this system in your space, you are essentially producing your own mulch and compost right on site, rather than needing to bring it in from elsewhere.

rhubarb plant showing big leaves good for chop and drop mulch

The large leaves of rhubarb are good for mulching.

Some people will balk at the untidy nature of gardening like this, but it’s worth it. A thick layer of mulch helps to retain moisture while it breaks down, adding nutrients to the soil. A heavy layer of mulch keeps weeds down, too.

So, what plant material makes good green waste for mulching? It will depend on where you live, of course. My go-to mulch plants here are comfrey (above), ginger, yacon, vetiver, and banana stumps simply because they’re plentiful. But there are other options to consider.

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12+ Plants to Grow for Chopping and Dropping

The options listed below are fast growing. Most will grow back very quickly after pruning, allowing you to harvest green leaves across an entire season and drop plant material in your yard or food garden.

While I mention these as fast growing mulch crops, just about any plant you prune will be beneficial. Just let the waste drop in place rather than hauling it off. 

kale seedling with vetiver as chop and drop mulch

Vetiver surrounding a kale seedling.

Permaculture and greening the desert

Using permaculture methods, including the idea of a chop and drop mulch, Geoff Lawton and his team created a green oasis in the middle of a Jordan desert. The video below is just two minutes long, but it shows the possibilities of creating permaculture food forests even in severe drought conditions. [Be sure to read my post about gardening in drought conditions, too.]

Before & After Scans after 5 years.

 

Here he is talking about the details of the project. And be sure to check out Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture for more detailed information.

Permaculture Behind Greening the Desert with Geoff Lawton

 

comfrey plant leaves for chop and drop mulch

Originally published in February, 2018; this post has been updated.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

11 comments… add one
  • Nano Carbon Bio-Stimulant Sep 27, 2021 @ 20:53

    Great article. Also, thank you for including “plants to grow for chopping and dropping”. Really helps. Thanks.

  • Phyllis May 30, 2021 @ 6:08

    Thank you for this informative blog. I do have a question: After cutting and dropping, do you leave the roots in the soil?

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 6, 2021 @ 16:41

      Ah, yes! Most of these plants will regrow, making more mulch!

  • Ray White Aug 19, 2020 @ 2:55

    This was an excellent article and it’s good to see de-desertification in progress. But I garden in raised beds (in the Mohave desert) and the problem with this approach is you have to be sure you get diseased plant parts out of the garden instead of letting them be part of your mulch. Otherwise as your mulch decays it transfers the diseases into your soil which holds the disease until next year’s crop.

    Also, because of the high winds in my area, I’ve found using small bark chips to be better for mulch than straw or chopped plants.

    Mulch saves water, a critical problem here in the Mohave, but the wrong mulch creates more problems than it solves.

  • Miriam Sep 3, 2019 @ 5:59

    Could you tell me what plant is in that very first picture, please?

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 3, 2019 @ 8:07

      That’s comfrey.

  • Liz Feb 1, 2019 @ 6:59

    Awesome video, thanks for sharing!

  • Esther Jun 22, 2018 @ 14:34

    Thank you for this wonderful insight …..so much is possible….if only politics and greed didn’t get in the way….one day….

  • Richard Sankar Jan 14, 2018 @ 12:41

    A rather nice way letting nature work for us

  • Kim Oct 24, 2016 @ 20:18

    I love stories like this. Sensational work!

    Keep up the wonderful work!

  • Melissa Mar 15, 2014 @ 16:57

    Wonderful peek into work I didn’t know was being done!  Thank you for the introduction and the inspiration! Off to learn more!

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