Mulch is an organic or inorganic material which is spread on top of soil and has numerous applications and benefits. This basic gardening technique is well worth understanding and a few simple points will enable even the novice gardener to use it like a pro.
The first and most noticeable benefit of mulch is that it creates a uniform surface between plants and trees, adding to the beauty of a garden or outdoor space. It gives a tidy and finished appearance, instantly making the area look well cared for. Color and texture can also be added with mulch.
Mulch is also used extensively to control weeds. By creating a barrier between the soil and light, weeds are given less opportunity to grow.
A layer of mulch also helps to prevent soil erosion and moisture evaporation, both vital in maintaining healthy plants.
Depending on the type of mulch, it can insulate and help maintain soil temperature – important in winter months when sudden drops below freezing can damage the roots of unprotected plants.
Certain mulches will enrich the soil over time by adding nutrients and fiber.
TYPES OF MULCH
The two broad categories of mulch are organic and inorganic.
Organic mulches include natural plant material such as lawn clippings, leaves, compost, bark chips, hay, straw and pine needles. Crushed nut or cocoa shell hulls are another option. Care should be taken to not use material that will create an undesirable shift in the PH of the soil beneath. For example, pine needles will add acid, which may adversely affect some plants. However, the same needles will be welcomed by acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons. Look into each option carefully, taking into consideration the plants as well as animal visitors to your garden.
Organic mulches should be renewed every 1 – 3 years.
Inorganic mulches include decorative stone, crushed rock, plastic, recycled and shredded rubber and landscape fabrics. Each has specific applications and a little research will help you decide if any of these will enhance your garden. Stone, rock and gravel can be beautiful but can alter temperatures around plants by absorbing heat during the day. Shredded rubber can last for years, but its aesthetic appeal is limited.
SIMPLE RULES FOR APPLICATION
It is tempting to lavish mulch on a surface but use restraint and don’t over mulch! Too much can be more harmful than no mulch at all. And it can be unnecessarily expensive if it is put on more heavily than required.
A depth of 2 – 4 inches is what to strive for. Distribute mulch by shovel or bucketful into beds, taking care not to drop it on plants. Spread with a rake or hoe to an even depth. Avoid piling against tree trunks as damage the tree’s health can result. Likewise, do not mulch directly around plant stems. Leave a ring of several inches so the plants and trees can breathe.
Using these simple guidelines, anyone can incorporate mulching into their gardening routine and enjoy the benefits for years to come!