Living mulches are subsidiary crops that are grown together with the main crops for at least a part of their own vegetative period. Although cover crops can suppress early season weed seed germination, they have minimal effect later in the season due to break down of the residue (Weston 1990). The regrowth of living mulch crops allows weed suppression to be maintained during the entire crop cycle (Elkins et al., 1979).
In the live-mulch system food crops are planted directly in a low-growing cover crop with minimum soil disturbance (Akobundu, 1980). The soil restorative and protective value of organic mulches is well known (Lal, 1984). Legumes are often used in living mulch systems due to their ability to ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen and their high forage value (Botton, 1958). Living mulch species should be; rapid to establish thereby providing early weed control and prevention of soil erosion; persistent under field conditions; tolerant of non-optimal growing conditions such as low fertility; produce sufficient biomass in a short time; be low maintenance in terms of fertiliser requirements and mowing; competitive against weeds whilst being weakly competitive with the cash crop, thereby minimising yield losses (Paine and Harrison, 1993).
- Akobundu I.O. 1980. Live mulch: a new approach to weed control and crop production in the tropics. Proceedings 1980 British Crop Protection Conference pp. 377-382.
- Botton H. 1958. Les plantes de couverture on Cote d'Ivoire. Le Mans, ImprimerieMonnoy.
- Elkins D.W., Vandeventer J.W., Kapusta G., Anderson M.R. 1979. No tillage maize production in chemically suppressed grass sod. Agronomy Journal 71:101–105.
- Lal R. 1984. Mulch requirements for erosion control with the no-till system in the topics: A review. In: Proceedings of the Harare symposium on challenges in African hydrology and water resources. IAHS publication 144: 475-484.
- Paine L.K., Harrison H. 1993. The historical roots of living mulch and related practices. HortTechnology 3(2), 137–143.
- Weston, L. 1990. Cover crop and herbicide influence on row crop seedling establishment in no-till culture. Weed Science 38:166–171.