live mulching and its importance

live mulching and its importance

Munawar Abbas a, Muhammad Zahid b, Muhammad Umair Abid a, Muhammad Usman Akhtar c and Imdad Ullah b , Muhammad Yaseend

a Institute of Soil and Environmental Science, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.

b Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.

c Department of Soil Science, Bahauddin Zakarya University, Multan.

dDepartment of Agronomy, Bahauddin Zakariya University,  Multan.


A mulch is defined as the processes of covering the soil to preserve the soil moisture, health of the soil and the soil fertility. Other function is decreasing growth of weeds and improving the visual appeal of the area. Live mulching means that growing of crop in the main crop or intercrop or mixed cropping, which provide the synergetic effect to the host main crop, this is also known as the symbiosis relationship. In agronomy, a living mulch is a cover crop or intercrop which are grown in the main crop. The difference between the cover crop and live mulching is that the cover crops are incorporated in to soil or destroyed in the soil or killed by herbicides. A successful living mulch system provides balance between competition against weeds and accessibility for the cash crop with respect to light, water, and nutrients.

Mulching are in different forms, some are organic mulching and other is inorganic mulching. Straw mulch, Bark, nut shell, leaf mulch, grass clipping, and compost are fall in the organic mulching, while pea gravel, landscape fabrics, plastic sheets, rubber, pumice and cloths are the inorganic form of the mulching.

In the tropical region, the  living mulches such as legume covers in oil palm plantations, coconut and rubber. In different countries ,the legumes are used as living mulches to control the nematode and the weed growth. The mulches jackbean (Canavalia ensiformis), jumbiebean (Leucaena leucocephala), velvetbean (Mucuna pruriens) and wild tamarindo (Lysiloma latisiliquum). Velvetbean decrease the gall index of Meloidogyne incognita in the tomato roots,  but inhibit the tomato rooting also. In addition, Velvetbean is also used for the control of the local weeds Alegria (Amaranthus hypochondriacus).Turf grasses is a living mulches which is important to resist the soil compaction and increase the soil aeration. ladino clover (Trifolium repens) and red fescue (Festuca rubra) were actual living mulches for suppressing the growth of the weed in crop. But unfortunately, these cover crops are competing with the main crop for the water and its effect is more severe when the conditions are dry. The using ladino clover (Trifolium repens) is difficult to kill with herbicide in winter conditions.

The benefit of live mulching are given below

  • when the cover crops are assimilated in the soil, which use as green manure and provide nutrients to the main crop and less the chemical fertilizers are used. the contribution amount depends on the biomass, which may differ over the time and depends on rainfall and many extra factors. More the biomass more will be the nutrient turn to the soil and more batter growth of the main crop.
  • Environment should be save, when less use of the chemical fertilizers.
  • Mulching can regulate the temperature of the soil when the condition is hot.
  • When the soil is bare then the soil erosion and the nutrient losses occour, due to soil erosion and due to heigh temperature of bare soil. Weeds can easily germinate and grow without any crop competition.
  • Living mulches can decrease the erosion of soil and also reduce the runoff water, and protect the water from pollution.
  • Living mulches can increase the population of such organisms which are the natural enemies of the plant pest.
  • Living mulches can be used to control weeds with inhibit the germination and with the inhibition of growth. Like, subterrain clover (Trifolium subterraneum) is used in sweet corn (Zea mays) to control the weeds.

Drawbacks of the live mulching are

  • living mulches compete with main crop for nutrients and water, this leads to reduce yields of main crop.
  • leguminous cover crops have more biomass production, because legumes is used as living mulches having more N contents and low the C: N. So when legume residue decomposes, soil microbes have more the nitrogen available to increase their breakdown of organic materials in the soil.
  • When the cover crops are killed with the herbicide, then these cover crops when added in soil as green manure can deteriorate the soil health and microbes.
  • Living mulching can be a host of some harmful diseases and pests, which can cause the disease in main crop.
  • When the conditions are harsh, like dry conditions then the live mulching are not good because they compete for water with main crops.
  • Some seeds of the mulch crop remain in soil and in next crop they cause the problem and reduce the main crop production.


Mulching is a good practice in agriculture. This practice has also some drawbacks that should be removed. Effect of live mulching on crop health, crop quality and effect on human and live stock is still unpredicted. Mostly the farmer are not fully aware about the live mulching and its benefits. Therefore, the research is required for the more benefits and overcome the drawbacks of live mulching. If farmers take interest in this practice and follow the advice of agricultural expert, then the farmer not only save money and also he will get remarkable change in agriculture field and good effect on environment. So, government should conduct aware seminar with the farmer on live mulching.


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