It may seem weird to some that I decided to start off this blog with a post on mulching. This really is to show you, that we, here out in the garden, take mulching very seriously and believe it is one of the best things you can do for your garden to make your time maintaining a garden more pleasant and productive.
There are numerous benefits to using mulch in your garden. Not only does it make your patches of dirt look tidier, but it also helps with less watering, pest control, and weed control. Our approach to mulching in the garden also helps feed the soil around our plants and acts as compost for them (this will be discussed later in the post).
Pulling weeds is something that I’m sure every gardener can say is the most unpleasant and irritating tasks to do out in the garden; it takes away so much of our time while we can be tending to our beloved flowers. Tilling the dirt also brings weeds up so it’s better not to till the soil much. Laying a thick layer of mulch can cut back the amount of time weeding down to almost nothing except a few occasional weeds that will sow on top.
Slugs and snails- they only seem to multiply by the minute and appear from nowhere;
eating away our newly-emerged seedlings or the lettuce we were saving for tomorrow’s salad. Although mulching doesn’t solve the problem of pests completely, mulching does help maintain slug problems as they do not like moving on jagged and rugged objects, but would much rather slide on smooth soils and surfaces.
Mulching helps your water bill stay lower in those hot summer months when it seems all you can do is stand outside with your hose to keep your plants alive.
With a thick layer of mulch, the soil beneath the mulch in the summer is kept moist a lot longer than the soil that is exposed bare in the sun. Instead of watering once a day on weeks when the temperatures are in the high 80’s and 90’s, we only have to water two or three times a week. Make sure to really deep soak those plants though, you want the water to reach the plant’s root- not just stay on the surface! Mulch shelters from extreme conditions like hot sun or strong rain and it locks in moisture in the soil.
Different Mulches for Your Garden
There are two different ways to mulching: organically and inorganically. Organic mulching includes mulches that are natural, such as wood chips, barks, pine needles, leaves, grass clippings, compost, straw, or paper. These natural, compostable mulches can be found almost anywhere. Keep all the grass clippings after you have mowed your lawn and add them around your flowers in your flower beds for some extra nutrients and weed preventer. Just make sure that your grass doesn’t have any weed seeds in it!
This upcoming fall, when all the leaves from your trees fall off don’t hurry to throw them into your trash or compost bin. Instead, pile those leaves on your dormant plants in your flower beds for some extra warmth during the cold winter months and for a layer of compost for next year.
You can also buy bags of bark and chopped leaves at your local hardware and gardening store. Just make sure, if you are using bark, not to buy any bark that has been color dyed if you are using this mulch in your food garden. You wouldn’t want to consume all those chemicals.
In short, organic mulching is very easy, quite accessible, inexpensive, and a good natural ingredient as compost for all gardeners!
Inorganic mulching includes landscape fabrics, black plastic, and color-dyed bark. These can be found in your local Hardware stores such as Home Depot, ACE, or Lowes.
Both of these methods work well for weed control, but there are a lot more benefits to organic mulching versus inorganic, as organic mulching also can act as compost for the plants as the material disintegrates.
Organic mulches decompose on the spot where it is laid and this effortlessly helps our soil increase in nutrients and texture. The decomposed organic mulch allows the soil to aerate, making the soil light and fluffy. It is even possible for a plot of soil that is hard with clay to become fluffy and nutritious after some time if multiple layers of mulch are applied to it. So if there is a spot in your garden that is hard as a rock and no plants can grow, don’t lose hope, just mulch.
The upside to inorganic mulching (landscape fabric, black plastic), on the other hand, is that it has a longer life expectancy then organic material mulching does. The mulch doesn’t need to be replaced after a few months but can last for multiple years!
How to Mulch?
In our garden, we have tried both methods of organic and inorganic mulching and have found that we see more positive results and benefits from organic mulching.
The best way to mulch is to lay down a 4-6 inch layer of mulch on an already weeded and clean area to get the best results. This method is best used in flower beds and around plants in the garden. This is called “side dressing”.
When laying a thick layer around the plant, make sure not to cover the crown of your plant (where the base meets the soil). This can cause root rot. Also, make sure not to confuse hay with straw. Hay should not be used in the garden because it can have grass seed in it.
Apply new mulch every 3-5 months or when you see it has already decomposed.
In another upcoming article I will explain how we also use a mulch to create new garden areas without all the hassle of pulling out the weeds and grass in preparation; using this “cardboard” method, we also make the pathways along our garden weed-free and dry.