Creating a simple propagation bed

Now is always a good time to start propagating ground cover plants for a forest garden, indeed any garden. Here’s how to make a simple, no-dig propagation bed, where you can plant-and-forget.

Patch of leaves in a sloping field, fence in the background
It doesn’t look much but that’s not the point! A simple propagation bed planted up with Glechomae hederacea.

At the beginning of any forest garden project, I always recommend surveying and planning first, followed by propagating ground cover plants. The reason is cost; you need a large number of ground cover plants to create a living mulch in a forest garden. At 30cm apart, the cost of plants would be prohibitive even in a small garden.

The process is pretty simple. Find an area of grass that you know won’t be used for quite a while and follow these steps to create the bed:

  1. Lay down a really thick layer of cardboard.
  2. Put a thick layer of top soil or garden compost onto the cardboard.
  3. Cover the soil with a thick layer of wood chip.
  4. Plant your ground cover plants through the woodchip into the soil.
  5. If you like, liberally sprinkle a layer of annual green manure (I use White Mustard) which will help keep the weeds down.
Illustration showing order of creating cardboard propagation bed

Illustration showing supersimple forest garden propagation bed

The grass will die off beneath the cardboard, the ground cover plants will grow in the soil, the cardboard will gradually decompose and the ground cover will get established. All you’ll need to do is a bit of weeding every few months.

Make sure to plant something that easy to propagate. Around here in West Wales, Glechoma hederacea grows like a proverbial weed, so it’s a fantastic, low-maintenance ground cover. Plants For A Future has a handy database of ground cover plants if you’re stuck for ideas.

The beauty is that the propagation bed is only ever temporary, you can always move the plants to another site. If you don’t use them, you can always give them away to friends, neighbours or a fête worse than death.

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