How to Mulch Your Garden | Types of Mulch

If you mulch, you can increase soil hydration, reduce weeds, improve crop quality, and feed the soil. There are many different types of mulch to use in your garden.

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For good reason, mulch has been called the gardener ‘s friend. In the spring mulch keeps the soil moist, suppresses weeds, and feeds the soil. In winter mulch protects bare soil.

Plants looking beautiful and productive through the year are a result of mulching. It is important to learn when to mulch, the right depth for mulch, and the right type of mulch.

What isMulch ?

mulch is any material that covers the soil ‘s surface. Fall leaves and plant debris are what mulch is. Compost, wood chips, rotted manure, cardboard, or evenseaweed can be found in the garden.

We have come to appreciate mulch ‘s sustainable and ecological benefits. The waste from the tiny microbes in the soil creates a healthier soil structure for plants.

There are benefits of mulch.

  1. Light reaching the soil surface reduces weed growth.
  2. It helps maintain soilmoisture by reducing water loss from the soil surface.
  3. It is warmer on cold nights and cooler on hot days.
  4. Reducing erosion and soilcompaction is achieved by protecting bare soil.
  5. Plants are protected from the harsh conditions of winter.

mulch has many other benefits.

  • The soil under mulch will be warmer in the winter. Plants are protected from the cycle of freezing and thaw.
  • The soil surface is prone to crusting. mulch allows water to move more readily into the soil.
  • Keeping soil off leaves reduces the chance of plants getting diseases.
  • Breaks down and feeds the soil.
  • The structure of clay soils is improved.
  • If organic, slowly increases soil fertility and may make micronutrients more available.
  • The gardener can plant before the soil is ready if the soil is warm in the spring.
  • Tomatoes and melons are kept clean and off the ground to avoid plantdisease.
  • When mulch is placed around trees, the chance of damaging their trunks is reduced.
  • Due to fewer weeds and consistent temperature, it improves plant health and growth.
  • A uniform appearance and rhythm to gardendesign makes gardens attractive.

There areDisadvantages ofMulching.

mulch has many benefits, but it can be detrimental to the garden.

  • TOO

    much mulch(a layer more than 3 inches deep) can bury and suffocate plants; water and oxygen can’t reach theroots. A layer of 2 to 3 inches of mulch is ample. Do

    NOT

    overmulch.

  • There is rotting barkif around the trunks of trees and shrubs. Keep mulch 6 to 12 inches away from the base of the plants. Keeping mulch away from the trunk discourages insects and rodents.
  • The perfect place for pests is near the plant stems. Sprinkle wood ashes or diatomaceous earth around the base of plants to keep pests at bay.
  • If not done correctly, mulch can bake your plants in the summer. See more below.
  • Light-colored, wood-based mulches, like sawdust or fresh wood chips, can steal nitrogen from the soil as they break down. Adding a nitrogen-richfertilizer to the mulch will counteract this effect. You can learn more about soil amendments.

What amount of mulch is needed ?

A layer of 2 to 3inches is plenty with most organic mulches. The thinner the layer is, the denser the material is.

Inorganic mulch is shallow. A mulch of small stones only needs to be an inch deep.

If You Want Mulch This Deep…
…You Will Need This Much Mulch to Cover 100 Square Feet
2 inches 18 cubic feet
3 inches 27 cubic feet

A yard of 1 square feet is 27 square feet.

mulch_002_full_width.jpgDry mulches—including sawdust, woodchips, peat moss, and dry straw—can be a fire hazard. Keep them away from buildings to be on the safe side.

There are different types of mulch.

The ideal mulch should be dense enough to block weed growth but light and open enough to allow water and air to reach the soil. Cost, availability, ease of application, and what it looks like in the garden are some of the factors to consider when purchasing mulch. There are many materials to choose from.

There are mulches that can be used in the garden.

They are organic mulches.

You can often find organic mulches from your own yard. They mimic nature over time. They are adding organic matter to the soil. The disadvantage is that they have to be refreshed frequently.

  • Compost is readily available and can be used to improve soil. Many towns make it available from their leaf composting facility if you do n’t have your own. The disadvantage is that it ca n’t contain weed seeds.
  • The bark is shredded or chipped. Softwood bark mulch breaks down slowly. The bark is attractive but breaks down quickly and needs to be properly composted.
  • If chopped, shredded leaves and leaf mold can be used to break down and feed the soil. The disadvantage is that leaves can mat if wet. Avoid matted leaves.
  • Straw and salt marsh hay are inexpensive and helpful, but they may harbor rodents, and are easily blown away by the wind.
  • Grass clippings are available but should be dried first or spread thinly to prevent them from becoming a stinky mess. Grass clippings ca n’t be used in a food garden.
  • Pine needles stay in place better than mulches. They are not as acidic as you might think, so do n’t worry about them chaning the soil.
  • The spent hops from a brewery, cocoahulls, ground corncobs, coffee grounds, newspaper, or cardboard can all be local. Get creative!

mulch-around-salvia_markherreid-ss.jpgImage: Mulching around salvia. Credit: Mark Herreid/Shutterstock

InorganicMulches.

  • Black plastic mulch helps warm the soil in the spring. In short growing seasons, this can make a big difference. It becomes very hot in the middle of summer if not shaded by leaves or covered with anothermulch because it is not permeable and it breaks down when exposed to sunlight.
  • The soil becomes even hotter with clear plastic in the summer and plants can be damaged if the plastic is notshaded.
  • A permanent mulch around shrubs and trees is provided by crushed stone, gravel, marble, or brick chips. These mulches are hard to move and can get into the lawn. An underlayer of landscape fabric will help prevent weeds and soil from entering the stones.
  • Landscape fabric smothers weeds while allowing air and water to move through them. They are treated to resist decomposition. Perennial weeds do not push the fabric down if it is fastened down.

How to applyMulch

In the spring, mulching.

When there is no danger of a hard frost in the spring, it is a good time to remove winter mulch.

If there are a lot of weeds on the ground where you want to grow, consider a landscape fabric.

mulch_006_full_width.jpgImage: Permeable landscape fabric.

Place a layer of cardboard on top of your organic matter. Thoroughly wet the cardboard to break it down. The cardboard will eventually kill most of the weeds. Any weeds that make it through the growing season will be easier to remove.

When the soil warms, we lay down soaker hoses in eachbed.

mulch_005_full_width.jpg

We cover the hoses with a fabric to speed up the change in soil temperatures.

mulch_008_full_width.jpg

There are different spacings for planting holes. Maintenance of a large area is much easier with the use of water.

The fabric on the plants does not look bad once they get some size.

mulch with organic matter The ground is being fed and gradually built up if old mulch is replaced as it rots down or becomes incorporated into the soil.

There is mulch in Autumn.

We do n’t mulch in the fall except for bare, unplanted garden beds to prevent erosion. If you did not plant a winter cover crop, you should spread a thick layer of soil-conditioning compost or well-rotted organic matter over the bare soil. shredded leaves could be used. It should be at least four inches deep.

Do not apply mulch in autumn. Plants may grow and the soil wo n’t cool down quickly. New growth can be damaged by winter cold. In the fall, mulch keeps the soil wet, which can lead to root rot and plant death.

Clear the surface of any debris and rocks larger than a hen ‘s egg if you ‘re setting out new areas. You can mow the grass or cut the weeds. After a few months, any grass and weeds below will have rotted down, while earthworms will gradually incorporate the organic matter into the soil below.

The mulch is in the winter.

Once you have had several freezes, apply winter mulch around the base of any tender perennial plants or new plants. Plants like hybrid tea roses benefit from being mulched.

Winter mulch can be shredded, straw, pine needles, or leaves. It ‘s best to apply 3 to 4 inches. It ‘s important to apply enough mulch in winter to keep the frozen ground completely covered so the plant does n’t start growing again until spring.

Do n’t put mulch next to the trunks of trees or crowns of plants because bark-gnawingrodents can show up.

The branches and buds of evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs can be protected with a tree guard filled with shredded leaves.

mulch_010_full_width.jpgWARNING: Do not mulch like this! “Mulch volcanoes” will encourage rot at the base of the plant.

Check out our guide to composting and read about mulching to control weeds and save water.

There are free online gardening guides.

You can find a series of guides, all free, at our complete Gardening for Everyone hub.

Gardening for Everyone image

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