Biting into a crisp carrot, or admiring the brilliant red color of a beet has more to do with the quality of top soil than most consider. With climbing temperatures in the Spring and Summer, soil can easily lose it’s efficiency if not protected and nourished. Mulch is either an organic or non-organic protective cover placed on the top layer of soil. If you’ve never considered using mulch, simply applying it can enhance your garden’s vitality at a low cost and with little maintenance (seriously, everyone’s a winner).
For one, mulching is a lot of bang for your buck. Many gardeners find that mulching with a variety of materials can yield a good list of benefits!
To name a few, mulch…
*insulates soil and stabilizes temperature, especially in the warmer months.
*provides shade for soil, which reduces evaporation and increases moisture levels.
*helps to reduce erosion from rain and wind. This can also improve the permeability of the soil.
*can suppress weed growth.
*protects soil from solar radiation damage.
*encourages faster growth and a more vital garden
A variety of organic and non-organic materials can be used as mulch in your garden. In a forest, we see dried leaves and twigs become “mulch,” as it forms around tree trunks, protecting the top soil and roots of each tree. Many gardeners use the same idea as they mulch in their own garden. Natural falling leaves, twigs, and pine needles all work well (and come at no cost!). Yet grass clippings, nut shells, plastic mulch sheets, shredded wood, hay, cardboard, bark, sawdust, crushed rocks and aged compost are also commonly used.
Which Mulch Is Which?
Start by brainstorming what you would like to accomplish from the mulch. Would you like the mulch to look attractive, or would it serve a more functional purpose? Are you applying in the spring and summer, or are you looking to winterize your plants? Do some research on which mulch is best for the plant(s) in your garden. For example, when mulching around annuals and perennials, small pieces of shredded wood or bark work best. Or, to show off the vibrant colors of your flowers or vegetables, applying dark mulch will heighten their beauty. Also, pine needles can create more acidity in your garden, which can benefit a potato heap.
How To Apply It
It is most beneficial to apply mulch at the beginning of the growing season and then reapplied when necessary. Once you have done further research and selected the right mulch for your garden, clean the area you plan to mulch by weeding or removing unwanted materials. Apply the mulch in a single layer on the surface of the soil, about 2-6 inches thick and wide enough to cover all potential underground roots. Keep in mind that trees require thicker layers of mulch while flower and vegetable beds need only a thin layer to be effective.
If you’re looking to lower the maintenance in your garden, drip irrigation is not a bad idea! It’s less work intensive than manual watering, and normally only needs to be adjusted seasonally. Drip irrigation is the most efficient watering system when mulch is present in your garden, as the water can be applied directly to the root zone. When irrigating, keep the soil bed moist yet never flooded or too dry. Also, use caution not to over water your plants, as mulch can prevent most water evaporation.
Friends, what types of mulch do you prefer in your garden?