Applying garden mulches is one of the practices you can do in the garden that is easy and beneficial.
- Mulch is a layer of organic or inorganic material that is spread on the top of the soil to offer protection.
- Mulches can be of a variety of material such as; bark chippings, grass clippings, straw, plastic, stones.
What does Mulch do?
- prevents the growth of weeds
- maintains soil temperature
- helps stop soil erosion
- conserves moisture
- will help your veggies and fruit stay free of soil
- gives you a surface for garden access that is clean
- makes gardens look neat
Organic mulches decompose slowly with the additional benefit of improving the soil. Organic matter releases nutrients, helps keep soil loose, and encourages worms and organisms. It improves root system growth, water retention, and allows water to seep into the soil more easily.
Types of inorganic mulch do have a role in landscape gardening but they lack the benefits of improving the soil that are provided with organic types. Because inorganic material is permanent it may be hard to remove when you decide you want to re-design or alter your garden layout in the future.
Personally I prefer to use natural materials and will therefore concentrate this article on the organic mulching methods and types.
Types of Organic Mulch Material
Lawn and grass cuttings work really well when used in vegetable gardening provided you do not spread grass that has seeds in it. In other words, be careful not to put long grass or hay on your vegetable garden otherwise you will have a lot of grass sprouting. Most lawn clippings are of short grass without seed heads and therefore will not cause a problem and will rot down nicely. Grass clippings do not look so attractive on flower beds though.
Newspaper works very well for garden mulches and does rot down. I have used newspaper by putting it slightly under a fine layer of soil so it can’t be seen and it does prevent so many weeds sprouting through.
Leaves and leaf mould are usually quite easy to find, particularly in the fall! Decomposed leaves provide excellent mulch while also putting nutrients back into the soil. Apply in the autumn to give winter protection and they will have rotted down by the spring.
Compost is by far a brilliant way of mulching your garden if you have enough of it. It is not only good at preventing weeds from growing through it is also an excellent source of nutrients for the soil and plant growth.
Bark chippings and/or bark compost mulch can be purchased in garden centres. Bark chippings make a lovely neat finish for garden flower beds and although they take longer to rot down they do eventually. Small chippings are much easier to lay in between smaller plants.
Seaweed is another good nutrient provider but do check with the plants because some do not like seaweed, such as bamboo.
When to Mulch
What time of year or season you do you’re mulching in will be dependent on what you are trying to achieve.
Winter mulches can provide a temperature protection for your plants roots and help prevent the soil from freezing so deeply. Apply after the first frosts appear and before the temperatures really begin to drop. If you apply the mulch too early you may encourage rodents looking for a warm place.
In summer mulch can help retain moisture in drier weather and prevent weeds from coming up so fast.
For vegetable gardening, apply your mulch after the seeds have germinated as putting it onto the soil before then could prevent the seeds from getting the warmth needed from the sun for germination.