No matter the season, mulch is beneficial for your home garden, making it one of the most versatile gardening resources available. In winter, the mulch can protect the soil and prevent erosion. In the spring, mulch locks in on moisture, suppresses weeds, and feeds the soil. Because of the numerous benefits of mulch, it is a fundamental gardening practice which will make your plants look healthy and beautiful. Becoming familiar with the best mulch types, how to mulch, or when to mulch you will become a veteran gardener in no time.
Best Mulch Types:
The best mulch tip-toes the line between being dense enough to block weed growth but light and open enough to allow sunlight, water, and other key nutrients to get to the roots of your plant. When considering purchasing mulch there are a couple of factors to keep in mind: Ease of application, cost, and how it will look in your garden. Either organic or inorganic mulches will be beneficial for your garden.
Organic mulch is made up of natural products such as leaves, grass, tree bark and other naturally occurring materials. The advantage of organic mulch is that over time it will add important organic nutrients into the soil. Some example of organic mulch are:
- Compost: is readily available and breaks down rapidly. Compost can be made at home using the used or rotten natural components (coffee grounds, fruit peels, dead leaves and weeds etc.) Be ready to replenish your compost on a regular schedule to ensure the soil is getting the fresh nutrients it needs.
- Shredded/Chipped Bark: This mulch is a popular selection because it resists compaction and breaks down slowly.
- Salt Marsh Hay: one of the most inexpensive mulching options and does a great job of providing the necessary nutrients. However, the disadvantages of using salt marsh hay is that it can harbor rodents and other pests as well as get blown away in strong winds.
Inorganic mulch is made from hardier materials, often man-made. These inorganic materials often decompose at a much slower rate, or not at all. Examples of inorganic mulch are:
- Black plastic mulch covering: helpful for warming the soil in the spring, can prevent unnecessary water loss and is easy to implement. However, by covering your soil in plastic, it makes it impossible to water underneath and when exposed to sunlight it can begin to erode. In addition, in the middle of summer the soil under the plastic can become very hot and have an adverse effect on the nutrients in your soil.
- Silver plastic mulch: Silver plastic can excel warming soil in the spring, but during the summer a clear plastic mulch can increase the soil temperature potentially damaging the plants if not properly shaded.
- Landscape fabric: one of the best inorganic solutions for weed control, while also allowing for air and water into the soil. Because they are man-made, they resist decomposition and can retain the moisture in the soil.
How to Apply Mulch
Depending on the season, you're going to want to treat your mulching differently. In the autumn, you won’t want to mulch as much, except for in bare, unplanted garden beds to help prevent soil erosion. Make sure to spread a thick layer of soil-conditioning compost or well-rotted organic material over the bare soil. If you are using organic mulch, make sure that you have a large percentage of shredded leaves and lay them about four inches high.
In the winter, your mulching activity should adjust as well. Once there have been several freezes start to apply winter mulch around the base of any newly planted plants. The best organic mulches for winter are shredded mulch, straw, or pine needles. Make sure to apply about four inches of mulch so that the frozen ground is completely covered. Make sure not to put mulch next to tree trunks or crowns of plants, as this can increase the chances of bark-gnawing rodent infestation.
In the spring, the first thing you should do is remove the winter mulch so that the ground can warm and new growth has enough room to grow. If your garden bed has a lot of weeds where you plan on planting, consider a landscape fabric.
Need help with your next mulching project? ToDoolie helpers are on standby for all your gardening needs!