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The Benefits of Mustard in the Garden

July 9th, 2012

“The advantage of sowing mustard are that it disinfects and regenerates the soil, it stimulates the life of the soil and curbs nematodes, especially potato root eelworm, which is why it is so useful to sow the seed. It gives the feared nematodes very little chance in the garden. Its effect on all plant life, including the crucifers, is not negative but positive.”

Gertrud Franck (Companion Planting: Successful Gardening the Organic Way)

‘Idagold’ mustard is what is used here at Chiot’s Run. A large bag was purchased from Johnny’s Seeds last spring and now it’s sown whenever I have bare soil that won’t be planted for a month.

Mustard is said to help suppress weed growth and providing a living mulch. That’s one reason I use it, I have had pretty good luck using it this spring/summer so far. I like to let mine grow to about six inches tall then I pull it and use as a mulch around the larger main crops like zucchini and potatoes.

I also overseed the areas where I plant potatoes. The book Managing Cover Crops Profitably, extols the benefits of mustard for mitigating lots of potato problems including blight. I let the mustard grow to about 6 inches then it’s pulled, laid around the potato plants and covered with straw.
Idagold Mustard
Another benefit of mustard is that it’s easy to pull and doesn’t really self-sow much or become invasive (at least not the yellow variety I grow). Mustard will also winter kill in areas with cold winters, making it a perfect fall cover crop for a nicely prepared and mulched spring planting area.

I’d highly recommend looking into a few cover crops for your small garden. Not only will you increase the health of the soil, you’ll save money by growing your own mulches. You can find a cover crop that will suit just about any need you have, from weed suppression and soil building to disease mitigation. I’d highly recommend starting with mustard, it’s a great initiation in to the cover crop world.

Do you use companion planting methods in your garden?

For more reading on cover crops in the garden, I’d highly recommend these books:

28 Comments to “The Benefits of Mustard in the Garden”
  1. daisy on July 9, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I can honestly say I never thought of growing mustard plants. What a great crop! Can you harvest the seeds for grinding and using in cooking?

    Reply to daisy's comment

    • Susy on July 9, 2012 at 9:11 am

      You can if you let them go to seed. I generally pull mine out before they reach that point.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. Melissa on July 9, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Great post- i’ve been planning on adding mustard to my selection of cover crops for this winter.Going to have a nice mix of mustard, rapeseed, and clover or austrian winter peas or maybe both!

    Reply to Melissa's comment

  3. Kathi Cook on July 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I will mustard where I pulled up my strawberries. Next year I was going to try potatoes there.

    Reply to Kathi Cook's comment

  4. Sherri on July 9, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Excellent tip! I bought some rye to sow this fall as a cover crop for the entire garden, but this is a great idea, too. I’ll try it – thanks :)

    Reply to Sherri's comment

  5. Maybelline on July 9, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Super. You know the Spanish missionaries threw mustard seed along the Camino Real (King’s Highway) in order to mark their road here in California. At least, that’s what I was told.

    Reply to Maybelline's comment

  6. Rhonda on July 9, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Sounds like I need to buy some mustard seed. I have hairy vetch that works out nicely too. I’m not really sure what it does but a friend told me I should use it, so I do. (I’m not a very good gardener, huh?) :-)

    Reply to Rhonda's comment

    • Susy on July 9, 2012 at 11:23 am

      All cover crops are beneficial. The vetch will help break up the soil and it helps fix nitrogen as well. I use a winter green manure that includes rye, vetch, clover and peas and it has done wonders to the areas I’ve planted it in!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  7. Peggy on July 9, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I will definitely be looking into this as well as other ground cover crops as we are just starting our gardens up. Our heavy clay soil needs all the help it can get. For years it was part of the pasture/holding pen for young cattle and then it was converted to lawn for about 20 years. The house has only been here 15 years but no gardens were dug until this past year a bit after we moved in. Right now we are amending with all the organic matter we can get our hands on…. this fall we hope to get a load of composted leaves plus horse manure to till in before we plant a cover crop for the winter. We currently only have 2/3 of the big garden area planted with crops but are just about ready to plant a cover crop for the empty area. Thank you for the mention of yellow mustard… now to go order some. Thanks!

    Reply to Peggy's comment

  8. Karla on July 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I have borage planted with my alpine strawberries to attract bees, and a lead plant by my cherry tree because leadplants are sometimes found near sand cherries in prairies, but in neither case do I have a control planting to see if it makes a difference. This weekend I read of someone co-planting potatoes and bush beans – has anyone here done that? Does it benefit the beans? … the potatoes?

    Reply to Karla's comment

  9. Liz Jones on July 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you so much for the information on mustard ~ I didn’t know that and will try it! I do get dark spots/holes in the potatoes. Not sure if it is caused by nematodes, but I guess I’ll find out :)

    Reply to Liz Jones's comment

  10. bonnie on July 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    you could probably steal a few leaves for eating as well.

    Reply to bonnie's comment

    • Susy on July 9, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      and I do!

      Reply to Susy's comment

    • bonnie k on July 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      I had been posting under just my first name, but since there is another “bonnie” posting here too, maybe I will add an initial to distinguish between us.

      Reply to bonnie k's comment

    • Diana on January 25, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Thank you! I was wondering if everyone’s potatoes were eating better than they were!
      I would leave a row of mustard to grow to maturity along an edge of the patch. You can pick the biggish leaves to cook like spinach, pick the flowers before they open to cook like broccoli,or just nibble raw or in a salad. YUM!

      Reply to Diana's comment

  11. Scott Geyer on July 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Have any of you planted cover crops in Square Foot Gardens? I just started mine and was wondering if I should try the mustard in the fall or winter. Thanks!

    Reply to Scott Geyer's comment

    • Susy on July 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm

      Yes, by all means plant your garden with cover crops for fall/winter or whenever you’re not going to be planting right away. That’s one of the great things about mustard, it germinates quickly and can be pulled easily.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  12. jennifer fisk on July 10, 2012 at 6:33 am

    And next year you’ll be within driving distance of Johnny’s. Whoo Hoo

    Reply to jennifer fisk's comment

    • Susy on July 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      Super exciting – can’t wait!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  13. val on July 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Are all varieties of mustard believed to offer the same benefits? I just received some seeds of several Asian varieties I plan on growing this fall/winter.
    I have neglected to do much research into cover crops because I garden in raised beds, and I was under the impression that most had to be turned into the soil, but if I can pull these, then that opens up the possibility. Do you know of others that can just be pulled rather than tilled? I do grow fava beans, and I just cut the stems and leave the roots in the soil.
    This could help ameliorate a lot of problems I have in a small garden where rotation is a challenge.

    Reply to val's comment

    • Susy on July 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      I would assume they would be. I simply grow this variety because I can get the seeds in large quantities.

      Easily pulling is one reason I love mustard. I pull them and lay them around newly planted things as mulch. It doesn’t take long for them compost down into the soil.

      Most cover crops can be pulled instead of tilled in (in fact we really don’t till here). Try buckwheat and clover as other options for your small garden.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  14. Barbara Shaw on January 18, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Where do you find mustard see in bulk?
    when do you plant it? I am in zone 7 and of course it is January now, is it too late? Barbara S.

    Reply to Barbara Shaw's comment

  15. Heidi on January 18, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    This is the first year for utilizing cover crops in my raised beds: Winter rye and winter pea. I am not sure what to do with my rye beds–the roots are so thick on top of the ground. I have no idea if I am supposed to cut down close to the grown and let it alone or turn it under. I am basically a no-till gardener. The peas I think I can cut it down and leave for mulch. Time will tell. I will eventually figure it out :). I am definitely going to look into that book. I am sure it would be helpful to me. I have had lots of questions about cover crops and no one seems to be doing it on a small scale in their backyards.

    Reply to Heidi's comment

  16. Steffanie on May 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    We have a 4 acre urban homestead and I’m turning my front yard into an edible landscape. Mustard has been a huge help for preparing the ground. I’ve only done a few areas but I think I may fill in spots of open space while my plants are growing to keep the soil healthy and weeds at bay. Thanks for sharing! The small plants are good in salad too!

    Reply to Steffanie's comment

  17. Mary Sue on June 7, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    This is great. Hope to find mustard seed at local organic

    Reply to Mary Sue's comment

  18. Pamela on April 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Is this the same mustard we eat as greens here in the South? Does anyone know? I’ve eaten it all my life, but the pictures above don’t look like the large-leafed varieties I’m used to seeing. Never knew it could be a cover crop. My uncle plants it every fall and it goes through the winter in the deep South. When cooked, it is milder than collards or kale. If it is the same, why not harvest the leaves as long as you can and then turn it under or pull it for mulch when it starts to bolt in hot weather?

    Reply to Pamela's comment

    • Susy on April 16, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Yep, pretty much.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  19. Ashley on May 21, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Could mustard seed be used under grain crops? I’ve just planted oats and barley using double cut red clover as a green manure. I’m a biodynamic farmer, so I try to keep my weeds to a min..

    Reply to Ashley's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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