Living ground cover for between rows

I’ve searched and haven’t been able to find much info on this topic.

I’m planning on planting around 5, ~50’ rows of various berries and grapes next year. I’m spacing them far enough apart that I can get in between them with my mower. However, I’m looking for ideas of a grass or legume I can plant to prevent weed growth. My soil is sandy so it would need to be drought tolerant to some extent. I’m planning on irrigating the rows with drip, so there may be a little bit of residual water, but not much. Also, it’d have to be hardy to cold winters and preferably not grow too tall. I can mow every week, but would rather not.

I was looking at buffalo grass. Does anyone have any experience with it? Is there any type of clover I could interseed that would attract pollinators that would do okay on sand?

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I say no to buffalo grass as a beneficial. Too competitive. Many people plant mustard with there grapes to detract pests and mustard is good for beneficial insects and suppression of bad nematodes. Dutch white clover plays amazingly well with other trees and stays pretty short. Red clover, Alspike Clover, Hairy Vetch, Oats and peas etc make an amazing soil and should help improve the sands organic matter. If you are going to do grass orchard grass is the way to go.


Thanks, I’m not set on grass. Any thoughts on Birdsfoot Trefoil? Or planting a clover with a bunch grass?

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Are you looking for a once and done perennial crop or are you willing to reseed regularly? If you want a perennial cover, you are more limited by your temps, since, unless you have good snow cover over it to insulate it, you may have winter kill of crimson clover, winter peas (Austrian field peas, etc.) and many other legume cover crops. If you time it right, though, you might get them to reseed themselves before winter kill so they’d restart in the spring. And some could be good sources of green manure/mulch. With the field peas for instance, you’ll have enough vegetation to mow it a few times a season and use it for a nice green mulch that will rot down quickly and feed your berries, plus the nitrogen they’re putting out through the roots.

Hairy vetch might make it through with snow cover when you are your coldest. White clover would work as a perennial there, but is likely to need more water than it sounds like you have although an occasional use of a sprinkler when things are dry might be worth it (see the second link below).

The web site is a great resource for info on the different cover crops. Here is an article that includes how some Michigan berry farmers are using white clover:

I have read a lot on cover crops, but am by no means an expert. I chiefly use them over the winter in my veggie plots and am also using it this fall through spring to jump start a new bed where I skimmed off the sod and planted a mix of crimson clover, hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas and daikon radish (to break up the clay a bit). There is no winter kill here, so in the spring I cut it all flat and drop it right where it is cut and cover with a couple inches of wood chips. The greens break down quickly and feed the soil, the roots have nitrogen and the pathways from the roots help the water infiltrate quickly and also improve the drainage to reduce standing water. The wood chips keep the weeds down during the growing season and are pretty much broken down by the end of the year so I can just replant the next round of winter cover.


Thank you for the link that is very helpful. I edited the title, cover crop was a bad choice of words. I’m looking for a living mulch or ground cover like grass that could have some beneficial properties. Ideally it would be a perennial. An actual cover crop with for green manure might not be a bad idea though to start out, or using in my garden. That’s a really good idea.

Regular alfalfa might be an option too. Sheep fescue was a grass I was looking at that might be a possibility of something it could seed in with a legume.

go to your local D.O.T office . ask to buy some conservation seed mix. its a mix of clovers and hardy grasses they put down for erosion control after disturbing the soil on a job. usually is pretty cheap. they gave me 20lbs for nothing. you have to mow it some but its not as bad as regular lawn grass.

Sounds like you aren’t thinking buffalo grass anymore. In my experience, buffalo grass seems to prefer heat compared to our other grasses around here, and does best in terms of out competing other grasses when it’s dry or very dry, and mowed right down to the ground. If not kept mowed, with very much rain, other grasses can creep in. I started my orchard on a bare hill side, and had to get anything growing right away so that the hill didn’t wash away. I started with some spare wheat seed in the fall to get some ground cover, and interseeded with some bulk lawn type grass from the feed store. Not fun to keep up with the mowing on that lawn grass. Ultimately, around here our annual precip can be low enough that lawn grass will just die without some supplemental watering (which I don’t do). Buffalograss is native and definitely will try to grow where other grasses think it’s too harsh. I’ve seen bees on it, which I find interesting. I’ve spread some buffalograss seed in my orchard and stuck in a handful of plugs. I would prefer that over the lawn grass that’s growing – if we have some dry/hot enough years, I think the buffalo grass will take over quicker.

I’m not completely off the idea. Since you have some experience with it how do you think it would work seeded in with a clover or legume of some type? Will I need to worry about it spreading in my rows. I need to find a way to control the field sandbur and quackgrass. I spray every year but it always creeps back in to the area.

How would buffalograss work as a lawn? I have an area of my yard, actually where I’m planting a small orchard that won’t grow any regular grass. When I mow it’s basically like a sandstorm in the summer. I’m ready to mulch the whole thing or find something else that will grow… It’s right when you pull in the yard so my wife would like grass of some type I’m sure.

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I’m not sure how buffalo grass would mix with clover. Maybe ok, but the prototypical buffalograss area around here has a clean shaven look. Buffalograss seems to thrive that way. Mowed low with summer heat and low rainfall (our avg is 25 inches but it definitely handles less), and eventually it takes over, but it can be a slow process. Seed is expensive, so i didn’t do too much of that. Plugs worked best. I grab those from around when the ground isn’t rock hard and i can see what I’m grabbing. I didn’t worry too much about it competing with fruit trees because it doesn’t like shade.

I like a buffalograss lawn but it depends on a person’s tastes. The south of my house gets blazing hot and dry. Full sun all day. I don’t water it. Buffalograss is king in that spot. I’m ok giving up some green color to avoid watering, mowing, and, for the city folk, spraying. Now that it’s established, I rarely have to mow it. In other areas with some shade, the lawn grass grows. I think its a soft lawn,but it’s a little different too. I would maybe describe it as thinner…like the buffalograss blades are thinner or more delicate, but the coverage is thick. Ill try upload a pic later.


Here is how the buffalograss looks this time of year. I’m holding up a little runner which is one way that it spreads.

Thanks for the picture! That looks way better than the sand patches and random weeds I have now. I think I might give that a try in the lawn area next year.

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I plant sterile blocking 14 comfrey next to each of my trees. Comfrey’s tap root grows down up to 10 feet where it is able to pull nutrients out of the deep earth into its leaves, Just cut and drop them a few times a season as super compost.

Autumn Olive and its relatives are Nitrogen fixing. I plant Goumi in my garden.


That’s interesting! Where’d you find the comfrey? I wondered about alternating goumi and blueberries. I think I read they can tolerate a lower pH.

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just search for blocking 14. I keep one in a plastic pot every time I rip the pot off the ground the roots grow into a new plant. Otherwise #14 doesn’t spread on its own.

I would not plant Goumi near other berries. They are so attractive to wild life Is more like a lore.


i 2nd the comfrey. i have 15 all over the property. not only are they great for fertilizer, they look nice also and the bees love their little purple, pink flowers. Travis, if you want some root cuttings to plant, give me a yell next may.


Thanks! I’ll probably take you up on that offer.


I would like to third the comfrey idea and add in that in my area it blooms during pollinators first dearth and is a heavy nectar producing plant.


is it as drought tolerant in your area as it is in mine? stuffs as bullet proof as it gets! aside from some powdery mildew in wet summers nothing affects it. i have a spot in my lawn that collects water when it rains hard and in the spring that spot is underwater with snow melt for about a month. the comfrey there will send up leaves from as much as 10in. of water in spring and grows just as well as my other plants on high ground.

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Its a heirloom from my wife’s mom so not sure if its 14 or 4 but my assumption is its 14. It actually needs water where i live but is still very carefree. Never seen PM on it here and we do have a lot of pm outside. I have thought about getting 4 since it supposedly uses less water but this thing only needs water when my trees need it so it works good as a rain gauge. This one my mother in law has kept for around 35+ years

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My orchard floor here in sandy Wisconsin is mostly red clover, with some Dutch White, ladino clover, crimson clover, chicory, alfalfa, yellow sweet clover, and a handful of weeds mixed in. The red clover is the most drought tolerant and is easy to manage with the mower. I try to let it set seed before mowing it so it thickens up. Bees and butterflies absolutely love it. !

Here’s a pic from early June.