Growing a prolific garden is the dream of every gardener no matter how long they have been gardening. There is one thing you can do that will revolutionise your gardening experience: MULCH. There are so so many benefits of mulching your garden. It really is the best thing you can do for yourself in your yard.
What is Mulch?
Mulch is a funny word. Look at it – mulch. Weird. If you say it over and over to yourself it gets worse not better – mulch, muuulllch, mulch. It even looks weird.
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But what is mulch??
Mulch is simply just a layer of something on top of the soil. Mulch is nature’s way of taking care of itself. We just copy it and it is genious.
Think about the forest. That lovely warm, decaying sweet smell and the substantial lack of weeds. If you pick up that dirt under the layer of leaves, it is damp and beautifully dark and teeming with life.
Trees naturally mulch themselves with their fallen leaves and branches. In your garden mulch is anything you put on top of the soil around plants.
What are the Benefits of Mulching?
In the forest the benefits of mulching in the self-mulching cycle is fairly evident. It provides the exact same benefits to your garden.
1) Keeps down the weeds. Who likes weeding the garden? You do?? Don’t lie, you do not.
Weeds are annoying and invasive, and they slow down the growth and choke out the plants you do want to be growing. Mulch, especially when applied thick enough will keep down even the most invasive weeds.
2) Protects the ground from erosion. Heavy rains erode our precious top soil, washing away nutrients and goodness. Mulch dissipates the rain and helps hold the soil in place.
3) Stops the soil from getting compacted. Walking on wet ground, or heavy rainfall compacts soil down,reducing the size of the micro pores that allow air, water and nutrients to get down to the roots of the plants. Mulch cushions and spreads out foot fall, and dissipates the impact of the rain.
4) Keeps moisture in. The mulch helps maintain a constant moisture level in the soil, and as the hot sun beats down, the mulch dries out first, allowing the soil to keep it’s precious water.
5) Keeps the Critters safe. One of the benefits of mulching is that the mulch provides a safe place for beneficial bugs, critters and fungi to thrive. These bugs and fungi increase the health of our plants and our soils.
What can I use to Mulch?
You can pretty much use anything to mulch with. Some mulches have more benefits than others, here are a few common options:
Well rotted compost is one of the best mulches you can use. The benefits of mulching with compost are that it is often free, it feeds the plants as it is incorporated into the soil and it is renewable.
Again the upside to mulching with these is they are free and renewable. They will also feed your plants as they rot down. You need to be aware that these can mat down too tightly and totally excludes the rain and got sludgey and stink if they are put on too thickly. They are best mixed with something more fibrous like twigs or dry straw.
Green manures/ cover crops:
These are plants grown in situ with the express role of being turned into mulch or dug into the soil. They are very cheap and add plenty of goodness to the soil. Read here about cover crops.
The benefits of mulching with stones is they DON”T rot down, therefore you don’t have to renew them each year. They do add minerals to the earth, and they allow water to percolate through to the soil below.
They help warm up the ground if they are dark, which can be quite helpful around some crops, like tomatoes and other fruits.
White rocks reflect the light up under grape vines helping to ripen the bunch evenly. Stones are great to mulch with in areas that you don’t frequent, down the back path or up the driveway for example.
Straw or Hay:
This is often very cheap or free to get, especially if you get old or spoiled stuff from farmers. If there is any mould, be sure to wear a mask while spreading it out, you don’t want to be breathing those spores in!
Hay or straw needs to be at least 6-10 inches thick when laid as it compacts quite significantly and decays quickly. It is a great way to get into mulching, and you simply add more mulch if you are having issues with weeds coming up.
I found it beneficial to get the chickens to rummage through my straw first, they ate the last of the seeds in it and added some bonus nitrogen in the form of poops.
Bark nuggets/ Bark Chips:
These are more pricy – but they look GOOD. They are great over weed mat or a thick layer of cardboard for your gardens that you won’t be planting in often – around shrubs and trees etc. And the benefits of mulching with bark is that they should last 3-5 years before they need replaced.
This is not recommended as a mulch as 1) it doesn’t let the water through and 2) it tends to blow everywhere. Wood shavings are better, but my favourite option is…
This is a product where both the leaves, wood and bark of trees are shredded all together. If you are lucky you might get some of this for free from an arborist or city council. Sadly we have to pay for ours.
The benefit to mulching with wood mulch is it doesn’t steal nitrogen from the soil as it has the green leaves in the mix as well. It breaks down and add to the quality of the soil and it encourages fungi growth – which really is the best thing ever.
How do I Mulch?
Mulching is really very easy. Remove the weeds from the area in question. Or don’t. If you don’t, I recommend you at least chop them down and smother them with a layer or cardboard or thick layer of newspaper.
Keep a 1-2 inch clearance around the trunks of all plants place the mulch in a thick layer at least 4 inches (10cm) thick. If you are having weeds grow through your mulch, you need more mulch!
Do you use mulch in your garden? What do you use? Tell me about it in the comments below!