How To Chop And Drop More Effectively

The practice of chop and drop mulching has long been a core technique utilized by permaculturists around the world, but there is more to this concept than meets the eye. Before you begin incorporating this practice into your own permaculture design, there are some factors you need to consider.

In theory, chop and drop mulching is pretty straightforward – you find a tree or a plant that can be used as mulch; prune off branches, leaves, or the entire plant; drop these branches, leaves, or plants to the ground; and you leave it there. However, depending on the type of plant you’re pruning and the climate you live in, this practice may not be 100 per cent effective.

Which plants make better mulch?

While basically any plant will eventually break down and feed your soil, the point of mulching is to efficiently suffocate the undesirable plants that may be inviting themselves into your garden, allowing you to avoid the use of chemical treatments. You want the plant to cover the surface of the ground and begin to rot quickly, so it can start becoming a part of the soil.

Plants known as “dynamic accumulators” are especially effective, as these kinds of plants can actually help extract minerals and nutrients from the soil and sub-soil – and allowing your more shallow-rooted plants to access them. “Nitrogen fixing” plants are another great option for mulching, as they offer additional nitrogen to be used by adjacent plants.

However, all kinds of plants will eventually begin to rot, and will become nutrient-dense soil for your plants to feed off of.

pruning raspberry with secateurs

How does the climate impact this process?

Depending on the conditions where you live, different plants will take more or less time to break down. If you’re in a temperate climate, woody plants like trees should generally not be used as chop and drop mulch – they take too long to rot, unless you chip the wood or just use the parts that aren’t woody. Herbaceous plants are a better option for this practice.

If you live in a humid, tropical climate, however, these kinds of materials will break down much quicker. You’ll be able to let tree branches fall to the ground and watch as they soon rot and become rich soil to feed your plants.

When should I practice chop and drop?

Whenever rainfall exceeds evaporation, conditions are ideal for chop and drop mulching. During the portion of the year where you see the most rainfall, that’s when you should start creating mulch. Not only will the added moisture help with the decomposition process, it will also keep the mulch in place – when conditions are too dry, it can blow away and even become a dangerous fire hazard.

Also, plants that you don’t want in your garden should be turned to mulch before they seed, to reduce the likelihood of these kinds of plants popping up in your garden later on. This helps ensure that your desired plants will benefit from the enriched soil, while the undesired plants will be eliminated before they have the opportunity to produce seeds.

For More From: World Wide Permaculture



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  1. Suppressing weeds is just one of the benefits of mulching. It also helps retain moisture and, as you noted, supplies nutrients to soil organisms and eventually the living plants. In our area I chop and drop *after* the rainy spring season, in part because that’s when those plants are sufficiently grown to provide significant quantities of mulch, but more important to not provide habitat for slugs during the wetter spring.

  2. In my front yard beds I did my first chop & drop last fall. It’s kind of a big deal where I live with a Home Owners Association rules to comply with, I did break the rules on this one. It made the chore so much easier, gave extra winter protection to the plants, blocked weed seed blow-in and the regrowth is doing wonderful. The regrowth this spring is wonderful and so much fuller.

  3. Hi! I live in a semidesert area. Last year we had only 162mm of rain. When I dug my swale 6 years ago (which gets a lot more grey water from the washing up than rainwater from the roof!) I planted nitrogen fixing alfala on the berm and planted 3 lemon trees which I put on an irrigation system. Some of the alfalfa has survived and I regularly chop and drop it. I augment what I can grow with purchased bales of alfalfa which I spread thickly over the ground after removing what I can of the couch grass and mallow which are both invasive here. I also have nitrogen fixing bird of paradise bushes (caesalpinia) growing along there but I can’t bring myself to chop and drop those – I just encourage them to self seed and get those roots down!

    I now also spread alfalfa over the veg patch and plant through it. It doesn’t demand nitrogen from the ground to rot down as straw or cardboard would, so it makes for a great source of shade for the ground and the roots whilst adding to the organic matter as it breaks down and is incorporated by the soil life.

    Many of my gardening friends have adopted this practice and are delighted with the results. So if you don’t have the rainfall to produce the biomass for a closed system and can afford a few bales of alfalfa then I suggest you give it a go. Just don’t tell the local goats about it though!

  4. Quote: “During the portion of the year where you see the most rainfall, that’s when you should start creating mulch. Not only will the added moisture help with the decomposition process, it will also keep the mulch in place – when conditions are too dry, it can blow away and even become a dangerous fire hazard.”
    Even this depends on the climate. In a wet temperate climate (like here in the Netherlands) this isn’t a good advice. The mulch staying wet too long gets mouldy and attracts snails & slugs. I.m.o. the best time for mulching here is the winter, so it will be decomposed before the new generation of snails & slugs start and in spring you’ll have organic materials feeding the new growth of your plants.

    1. What purpose do you think snails and slugs have in the environment? Of course dead and dying plant material attracts these things. That is their purpose by God to break these things down in the environment. I mulch with leaves and wood in my yard. The snails and slugs cover them at night, but they don’t eat my living plants. If you have enough mulch they will mostly leave your good plants alone. It is often the caterpillars that are eating your green leaves.

    2. If you chop and drop one locations then for sure, you attract the slugs that are present anyways, but doing it on lager scale makes it less intresting for the slugs. Also the slugs still prefer the same plants but living, not chopped down.

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