Mulching is the simple act of covering the soil with a layer of organic material, nature employs this practise constantly – gardeners just copy!
Mulch performs many roles in the garden and there is pretty much nothing that won’t benefit from a layer at different times of the year.
Perhaps though, its best function is in the summer when the need for water is at its highest and its conservation is important – especially for those of us that have to pay for it.
Water evaporates very quickly when it reaches the soil, it is important to conserve the water so plants can use it. A layer of mulch prevents the sun and wind from penetrating to the soil, retaining the moisture around the root zone where it is needed.
A bonus for any gardener is that mulch suppresses weeds, the soil stays loose so any that do are easy to pull out. Mulch provides a barrier between the plant and the soil, preventing mud splash that can carry soil borne diseases and turning vegetables that trawl along the ground mouldy and mildewed. As the mulch decomposes then be dug in to the soil boosting the nutrient content of the soil.
The Do’s and Don’ts
DO, give all the plants a dressing of fertiliser before you apply but more importantly make sure the ground is moist so give everything good water first – mulching over dry soil will actually inhibit moisture getting to the plants and you will need to water more.
DO, apply approx to a thickness of 5cm, it needs depth to be effective, if you only scattered it around it will move around with the wind and rain.
DON’T, mulch right up against any plant, this can encourage diseases to enter the soften trucks or stems.
DON’T, mulch heavy wet poorly drained soils
DON’T, mulch to early in the season allow the soil to warm up before you apply a layer, mulching acts as a blanket applied to early it will prevent the warming rays of the sun to get to the soil
There are many types of mulch, have a look around your neighbourhood – coffee ground, crushed shells, cocoa hulls you might be surprised at what you find.
Pea Straw comes in a dry bale of actual pea straw, this is safe to use around your garden beds and is particularly suited to the vegetable garden.
Compost is readily available this is not the lovely lumpy compost that is better dug through the soil but a fine textured product that can be purchased in bags or bulk. This compost is mass produced and will have a base of either bark or pumice. Great for adding bulk to your soil as well!
Leaves are plentiful in autumn, run the mower over them first to shred them, rake them up, lightly water and place in to large paper sacks or plastic bags. Tie up the bags, punch a few holes in the bag and stack them in the corner of the garden to rot down. When ready you can apply as mulch or dig in to the soil as compost.
Bark is best used on your shrub beds, for a finished look, it will takes little longer to break down so it is better used in permanent plantings.
Pine needles make a good mulch for strawberries, it can be worked in to the soil afterwards – careful not to overdo them though as they will acidify the soil. Once fruiting has finished don’t reapply.
If you have limited materials try double mulching – torn newspaper as the base mulch topped with a finer textured material like compost or pea straw.
Grass clippings are high in nitrogen but if you are using wet grass it can get a little slimy put it to the back of the garden if this happens.