Weed as a Cover Crop in Coffee Plantations

M. S. Sreenivasan

A Planter is known as a ‘PLANTER’ because of his endless planting activity. He has to undertake this job either to replace the physically damaged plants or to refill the spaces created owing to pest/disease attacks from time to time. Besides this routine operation, often, he may have to replace the area of old, moribund/non yielding ones with newer plant material in the form of replanting programme. No doubt this is an expensive field operation but inevitable. In these new clearings the introduced plants take 4-6 years to cover the ground to suppress the weed growth. In fact, control of weed growth of various types is a problem and needs extra vigil and labour input.

Growing of cover crops in the new clearings of coffee plantation is a standard practice for the improvement of soil organic status. W.W Mayne, 1942 is of the opinion “I consider that planting of a green manure crop should always form one of the most important works in a re-planting programme. The clearing of the old coffee and the reduction of the shade provides an opportunity for cultivating a green crop in quantity”. The purpose of establishing a cover crop is to provide ground cover to avoid soil erosion, conservation of soil moisture and to enhance soil fertility. Cover crops in Coffee Estates, include Mimosa invisa and commercial crops such as ginger, turmeric, banana etc. The establishment of above crops not only requires additional labour but also deplete soil nutrients, particularly, when tuber crops like ginger and turmeric crops are grown. Further, digging of soil for recovery of underground parts of crops can expose valuable top soil for erosion. In the case of Mimosa invisa, it gets hybridized with wild species Mimosa pudica a hard weed with prickles to compound the problem of weed management. Hence, introduction of a cover crop for the purpose of soil and nutrient conservation was under consideration.

During the course of field visits, I was on the look out for a suitable plant material, which could be introduced into a plantation for easy establishment without any extra financial input and cultural involvement. During one of these routine estate inspections, a weed was observed which was strikingly different from associate weeds. It had covered the ground in open and semi shaded areas of a coffee plantation of M/s Coffee Day group in outer Giris of Chikmagalur coffee liaison district. The weed was identified as Drymaria cordata, a member of the family Caryophyllaceae.

This weed has the following features, which could be encouraged as cover crop in coffee plantation.

  1. A low herb with succulent dark green leaves which rapidly cover the ground.
  2. The root system is very shallow making use of the surface moisture in soil and perhaps atmospheric humidity.
  3. Propagates via seeds getting stuck to the limbs of the moving animals.
  4. Emergence of seedlings takes place soon after the receipt of summer rains, and covers the ground in a matter of 45-60 days.
  5. It suppresses the competitive weeds including hard grasses.
  6. Easy to slash if over grown.
  7. Drying out in late winter to provide a thick carpet of mulch to conserve the soil moisture.
  8. Prevents soil erosion caused by rain splash.

Having seen the positive points of the weed, it was encouraged to establish in some of the estates of the Coffee-Day Company, M/s Sampigehutti, Kathlekhan (Green Acre units). The weeds covering the ground looked like a lush dark green woolen rug. The Managers who took keen interest to establish this wonder plant as a cover crop in the plantations need to be complemented. As on date this plant has been established in an area of 100 acres in each of the estates. To establish this weed in a plantation as a cover crop does not involve any extra expenditure. When these plants are noticed in a plantation, they should be spared from weedicides application, and allowed to establish on their own. I am gratefull to Prof.G.R.Shivamurthy Department of studies in Botany, University of Mysore for identifying the plant.

The weed was also used to prepare liquid fertilizer as per the procedure of D.R. Praphullachandra, described in the LEISA India magazine (June 2005 Vol 7 No 2). It was applied to Coffee Nursery and had positive effect on seedlings. This plant material rapidly degrades than any other weed, when used to make liquid fertilizer.

When the weeds cover the ground, the scenic beauty of the estate will be wonderful. Besides, it saves several man days of labour, as other weeds get suppressed.


Mayne,W.W.,1942 The agricultural problem of south Indian coffee, U.P.A.S.I. Scientific Department Coffee Section. Occasional paper No 1

Dr. M. S. Sreenivasan, Kudregundi Estate, Post Box No.19, Chikmaglur District, Mudigere – 577132

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