Because of its many benefits, mulch is sometimes referred to as the “gardener’s buddy.” During the winter, mulch covers bare soil, stops erosion, and shields plants from the elements.
In the spring, mulch prevents moisture loss, keeps weeds at bay, and adds nutrients to the soil. Acquire knowledge about the process of mulching, the appropriate times to do it, and the several types of mulch available for use in your garden.
The use of mulch is one of the most important aspects of gardening, as it helps keep plants looking healthy and productive throughout the year.
If you do not yet know how to mulch, it is necessary to understand when to mulch, the suitable depth for mulch, and the proper type of mulch.
What is mulch?
To put it in its most basic form, mulch is any substance that is used to cover the surface of the soil. In its natural state, mulch is composed of nothing more than dead leaves and other plant matter. Compost, wood chips, decomposing manure, cardboard, and even seaweed are some of the other materials that may be used as mulch in a garden.
We have only recently begun to recognize the many long-term and environmentally friendly advantages of mulch. When mulching is done properly, it provides the live microorganisms in our soil with the nutrients they need, and the waste produced by these little bacteria helps develop a healthy soil structure for plants, therefore reducing the risk of compaction.
- Mulching prevents light from reaching the surface of the soil, which stunts the development of weeds.
- Helps the soil retain its moisture by lowering the amount of water that evaporates from its surface.
- Temperatures in the soil are kept more even, with the soil remaining warmer during the cold nights and colder during the warm days.
- Protects exposed soil while at the same time lowering the risk of erosion and soil deformation.
- Provides shelter for plants from the severe weather that winter brings, including wind and freezing temperatures.
Mulch has several more advantages, including the following:
- In the winter, the soil that is protected by mulch would be warmer than soil that is not covered by mulch. Plants are shielded from the repeated cycle of freezing and thawing as a result of this.
- Stops the surface of the soil from crusting over. Instead of evaporating, water is able to more easily absorb into soil that is coated with mulch.
- It prevents dirt from spilling onto the leaves of the plant, which in turn minimizes the likelihood that the plant will get infected with bacterial and fungal illnesses.
- When used organic mulch will decompose and adds nutrients to the soil.
- Increases the ability of sandy soils to store moisture while simultaneously improving the texture of clay soils.
- Increases the fertility of the soil gradually (if it is organic), and it may make the micronutrients that are already present in the soil more accessible.
- Warms the soil in the spring, enabling the gardener to plant days or even weeks before the soil would typically be ready to receive seeds or seedlings.
- It is important to prevent plant disease by keeping plants clean and raised off the ground, particularly tomatoes and melons.
- When mulch is used as a ground cover around trees rather than grass, there is less risk of the tree trunks being damaged.
- Increases the vitality and development of plants because of fewer weeds and more soil temperature and consistent moisture.
- Gives gardens a “spiffed up” and beautiful look while also providing the design of the garden a regular look and rhythm.
Even though there are numerous advantages to utilizing mulch, there are several circumstances in which it might be harmful to the garden:
- BURYING and suffocating plants with an excessive amount of mulch (a covering that is more than 3 inches thick) prevents water and oxygen from reaching the plant’s roots. A layer of mulch that is between two and three inches thick is sufficient. DO NOT apply too much mulch.
- If mulch is stacked up all around the bases of trees and shrubs, it may accelerate the process of the bark decaying away. Keep a distance of between 6 and 12 inches between the mulch and the base of woody plants. Do not mulch around trees in a “volcano” shape! Keeping mulch at a distance from the trunk of the tree deters wood-boring rodents and insects that chew, as well as deterioration.
- Mulch located close to the stems of plants is an ideal habitat for a wide variety of unwanted pests, including slugs, snails, burrowing rats, and others. The presence of snails and slugs may be discouraged by the use of charcoal or diatomaceous earth at the base of valuable plants.
- In the middle of summer, improperly applied mulch might provide excessive heat that could fry your plants.
- Sawdust and fresh wood chips are examples of light-colored, wood-based mulches that, when they decompose, have the potential to remove nitrogen from the soil. To minimize this impact, include a nitrogen-rich fertilizer in the mulch, such as soybean meal, oatmeal, or cottonseed meal. Other options include crab meal and bone meal.
Depth of mulch?
When using the vast majority of organic mulches, a layer that is between two and three inches is sufficient. When the material is more finely ground, a thinner layer is required.
Most of the time, inorganic mulch has a lower depth. For instance, the required depth of a mulch composed of tiny stones is often just one inch.
Type of mulch
The perfect mulch would be heavy and compact enough to prevent the development of weeds while being transparent and open enough to let water and air into the soil underneath. When shopping for mulch, it is important to think about how much it will cost, how readily it will be available, how simple it will be to apply, and how it will seem in the garden. There is a wide selection of materials available, each with a unique color palette and range of surface textures.
In the garden, you may get the same level of success with either organic or inorganic mulch.
Organic mulches are natural materials that are made from grass, leaves, trees, and other types of plant matter, and they are often sourced from the homeowner’s own yard. They behave similarly to nature in that they deteriorate slowly over time. One of the many benefits of this practice is that it really results in the addition of organic matter to the soil. The one and only drawback are that they need to be renewed on a regular basis.
- Compost is easy to acquire and quickly decomposes, both of which are beneficial to the soil. In the event that you do not have access to your own, several municipalities make it available for purchase from their leaf composting facility. The fact that it has to be refilled and has the potential to harbor weed seeds are also drawbacks.
- Bark that has been shredded or chipped. Mulch made of softwood bark is visually appealing, can withstand being compacted, and decomposes slowly. Hardwood bark has a pleasant appearance, but it decomposes very fast. In order to prevent smelly mulch and irritating fungus, it is necessary to compost it carefully.
- Leaves may be shredded and turned into leaf mold, both of which are easily accessible. Chopped leaves gradually decompose and provide useful components to the soil when used in this manner. If the leaves get wet, they may clump together, which decreases the amount of oxygen and moisture in the soil. This is a drawback. Stay well clear of areas covered in a matted layer of damp leaves.
- Straw and salt marsh hay are beneficial coverings that are also quite affordable; nevertheless, they deteriorate more rapidly, may be a haven for rats, and are readily blown away by the wind.
- Grass clippings are readily accessible, but they must be dried first or spread out in a thin layer in order to prevent them from turning into a hot, smelly, and slimy mess. In addition, you are not permitted to utilize grass clippings that have been chemically treated in a vegetable garden.
- Pine needles, in comparison to other types of mulch, are not only visually appealing but also more stable. There is no need to be concerned about them altering the pH of the soil since they decompose slowly and are not as acidic as one would think they would be.
- Byproducts from the immediate area, such as discarded hops from a brewery, ground corn cobs, cocoa hulls, coffee grounds, newspaper, or cardboard, may also contribute significantly.
- The use of black plastic mulch in the springtime helps to warm the soil, minimizes the amount of water that is lost, and is practical. In regions with short growing seasons, this may have a significant impact. It also deteriorates when exposed to sunlight, and the soil under the plastic gets quite hot in the middle of the summer if it is not covered by leaves or covered with another mulch. On the other hand, it is not transparent, which makes it more difficult to water.
- Silver plastic mulch causes the soil to get even hotter in the middle of summer, which may be harmful to plants if it is not shaded. Silver plastic mulch is superior for warming the soil in the spring, but it does not prevent the growth of weeds.
- A permanent mulch may be created by using crushed stone, marble chips, gravel, or brick chippings around trees and bushes. Having said that, these mulches are costly, difficult to transport, and have the potential to get into the grass. It is still possible for weed seeds and dirt to get embedded in the stones; however, an underlayer of landscape fabric will assist prevent this from happening.
- Weeds are prevented from growing by using landscape fabric, which also permits the passage of air, fertilizer, and water through the weeds and into the soil. They have been treated so that they are resistant to decomposition, and they also aid in the retention of moisture in the soil. It is essential to secure the cloth to the ground in order to prevent perennial weeds from pushing it up.
How to apply mulch
Mulching on spring
In the spring, after there is no longer any risk of a severe frost, remove the winter mulch from your plants so that the soil can warm up and new growth will not be stunted.
Consider using a transparent landscaping fabric on most of the beds if there are a lot of weeds growing on the ground in the area where you wish to grow plants.
You may also use a layer of cardboard before adding your organic stuff as an alternative. To quicken the decomposition of the cardboard, thoroughly moisten it. The cardboard will act as an additional barrier against the weeds, which will cause them to get overworked and finally cause most of them to perish.
When the growing season begins, you will notice that any weeds that do survive will be much simpler to pull out of your garden. This is because more sunlight will be available.
After there have been a few spring showers and the ground has warmed up, we will put down soaker hoses in each bed.
After that, we use a cloth to cover the hoses in order to speed up the process of the temperature change in the soil and warm it up in preparation for early planting.
Planting holes are made at intervals that vary according to the kind of crop being grown. The use of water is more effective, and the upkeep of a vast area is simplified significantly.
When the plants have reached a certain size on them, the cloth will be covered and will not seem to be as awful. For plants that thrive in colder environments, we also utilize organic mulch, which may include straw, leaf mold, grass clippings, wood chips, or shredded leaves.
Maintain a consistent mulching schedule using organic materials. To ensure that the ground is continually nourished and improved over time, remove and replace old mulch as it decomposes or is absorbed into the soil.
In the autumn, we do not often apply mulch, with the exception of preventing erosion in barren garden beds that are not planted with anything.
A thick layer of compost or well-rotted organic matter may be applied to the bare soil if you didn’t grow a winter cover crop. You might also use leaves that have been crushed. Place it at a depth of at least four inches.
In any other case, you should avoid applying mulch to your landscaping throughout the fall. The soil will not immediately get cooler, and plants may continue to expand their root systems.
There is a possibility that new growth may not harden off and will be harmed by the winter cold. Additionally, mulching in the autumn prevents the soil from drying up, which may result in root rot and ultimately the death of the plant.
Note: Before you begin to lay out new places, make sure that the surface is free of any rubbish as well as any rocks that are bigger than an egg. Mow the grass down to the ground or chop the weeds back to the ground.
After a few months have passed, any grass or weeds that were growing under the mulch will have decomposed, and earthworms will have begun their task of gradually mixing the organic matter into the soil below.
Later the ground has been frozen many times, often around the time of Thanksgiving or after, adding a layer of winter mulch around the base of any young or vulnerable perennial plants. Heavy mulching is beneficial for grafted plants like hybrid tea roses and other grafted plants.
Chopped mulch, pine needles, straw, or crushed leaves are all suitable winter mulch. Apply 3 to 4 inches. It is essential to apply a sufficient amount of mulch in the winter to ensure that the frozen ground is thoroughly covered.
This ensures that the plant will stay dormant until spring, regardless of the temperature swings that may occur.
Take care NOT to lay mulch adjacent to the trunks of trees or tops of plants, since this draws bark-gnawing rodents.
Wrapping the branches and buds of evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs, such as rhododendrons and viburnums, with burlap or sheltering them with a tree guard packed with crushed leaves for insulation is an effective way to protect them from the harsh winter weather.
Is mulch the same as compost?
The terms “mulch” and “compost” are not identical. The short answer is that mulch is placed on top of the soil in order to prevent weed growth, keep moisture in the soil, and maintain a consistent temperature, whereas compost is placed underneath the top layer of soil in order to provide the soil with beneficial nutrients and to benefit the soil itself.
How often should you mulch your garden?
It is advised by Becker that beds have around 3 inches of mulch, and mulching should be done at least twice a year. Mulching with the appropriate quantity at each application can assist prevent the growth of weeds and preserve moisture, thus reducing the amount of irrigation that is required.
Will mulch attract termites?
Even while the material itself does not attract termites to the region, creating an appealing environment for the insects by spreading mulch such that it is at least three inches thick is sure to perform the trick. Next to the ground, heat and moisture are retained by layers of
organic materials that have accumulated. These deep layers of mulch provide termites with protection from the elements.
Should I use mulch or rock?
Rocks are better compared to mulch in terms of preventing the growth of weeds, and they also need less upkeep. Stones are another element that can improve the visual appeal of a property. Rock cover, on the other hand, is not a good choice for gardens that get a lot of sun due to the fact that rocks retain more heat than mulch does. In the end, everything boils down to a matter of individual preference.
Will mulch attract ants?
Unfortuitously, roaches, carpenter ants, earwigs, and termites are just some of the pests that are attracted to wood mulch due to its dual role as an attractant and a food source. Both carpenter ants and termites have the potential to do damage to a property that is measured in thousands of dollars.