I know we’re all just trying to grow (more) food, but we’re working too hard. Let’s put off some more of the work on the plants we love so much by growing more companion plants that drop a lot of leaves and stems as they become larger.

There is a certain pressure present to fill every possible space of an edible landscape, food garden, or food forest with a food-producing plant, but, when you’re starting from a city yard filled in by the heaviest clay completely lacking any organic material to get your plants off to a good start, the best thing you can do for your future food harvests is to give them some supporting plants.

As a general guide, you’ll want to choose plants that will grow well in full sun or partial shade, which means they can stay put for years without you having to dig them up and move them elsewhere. The robust root systems on these plants will help to make space in the soil for other plants, but it is also important to keep in mind that a lot of the plants in this list will grow faster with heavy fertilizing and regular watering.

You can keep up with this by recycling your house waste to help speed along soil building.

A Lovely List Fast-Growing Companion Plants For Improving Soil Fertility

Okaaaay, that’s cool and all, but what plants should I be investing in to make this happen?

I have a list for you, but, in general, what you are looking for are plants that can either be chopped and dropped frequently to build soil, or that drop their own leaves and stems and grow very quickly.

A lot of the plants on this list can actually be grown as riparian plants in the bog area of a pond, or otherwise, in areas of your food garden/edible landscape with poor drainage and flooding problems. These moist areas will help to lower the amount of watering you’ll have to do because they hold water well already. These will also make excellent places to add coffee grounds and mulch as the additional moisture will help them break down more quickly and attract red wrigglers and earthworms.

The worms will begin nibbling on the plant waste and composting materials and naturally add worm castings to the area, which will hold even more moisture, which will then allow your plants to grow even faster. Your job is to get the snowball rolling and set it on a hill so it can grow as it rolls on down.

Taro, Edible Elephant Ear growing in the permaculture food forest
Taro, Edible Elephant Ear growing in the permaculture food forest

1. Taro (Or Elephant Ears)

I’ve found these to be one of the best filler plants. They do well in full sun and also thrive with shade. The taro pictured here is an edible type of what looks like an elephant ear. This is one plant that will actually increase your food harvests by allowing you to grow more food while building soil.

Taro loves water and can be grown in the boggiest, wettest areas of your garden or landscape without issue. The leaves and the roots are both edible, but leave the stems behind as they are not! They do make excellent worm food though and hold a lot of water, keeping the area moist as they break down into humus.

2. Banana Plants

Banana plants also make excellent bog or pond-side plants. They are also wonderful for adding some shade to your food garden where you might have some plants that require a bit of protection for the sun. Banana plants also come in different heights so if you’re looking for a plant to help build some soil for an existing fruit tree, you can choose a smaller banana plant to give your fruit tree full sun, or if it’s a fruit tree that benefits from some shade, like a the Fuyu Persimmon, then you can go with a big, banana plant to protect your persimmon tree.

3. Inland Sea Oats

Although I am still running my own food forest experiments with just how many ways the Inland Sea Oats plant can support the growth of the edible landscape, thus far, it has proven to do a wonderful job of shading the soil and providing an ideal environment for Red Wrigglers and European Nightcrawlers, the worms responsible for breaking down materials in the uppermost layers of the soil.

This grass spreads rather quickly by rhizomes which will help give you lots of green material to either chop and drop or compost to add additional nutrition to plants that may be in need. My recommendation is to grow the Inland Sea Oats plant beneath a fruit tree or other large, food producing plant as the shade it produces will help keep the ground more moist and attract Red Wrigglers and European Nightcrawlers to its root zone which helps improve the soil around your Inland Sea Oats plant–and your fruit tree/edible plant, all at once.

4. Canna Lilies

Canna Lilies are one of the most unkillable plants I have come across. You can pull up some Canna Lilies and literally drop them on the ground elsewhere, and there is a 325% chance that they will put down new roots and continue to spread. They do well in boggy soils and have robust root systems and produce a lot of stalks and leaves. You can also allow them to flower to attract pollinators while still growing them to improve soil fertility by leaving the stalks and taking some of the leaves.

5. Mexican Sunflower

Mexican Sunflower has varities that are annual and perennial. They work equally as well as chop and drop plants, though, the perennial version can be easily propagated from cuttings, so you have to be careful about where you drop them. This upside to this is that you can have more and more fast-growing Mexican Sunflowers to build soil fertility more quickly.

The perennial Mexican Sunflower is only cold hardy to places with warmer winters, but you can take cuttings at the end of the season to grow in pots to restart the next spring. These are robust plants that also need to be heavily watered and also need full sun. This makes them great for providing some shade to young fruit trees, but not good choices for growing in the shade.

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