My Tips on Mulching
Mulch is a great material for blocking weeds, capturing moisture near the roots of your plants, and reducing the amount of mowing you need to do near tender plants. Mulch comes in several different varieties and can be permanent or require refreshing each planting season.
Benefits of Mulching
Well-mulched soil is protected from heat, downpours and weed infestations. Such soil
- retains moisture by protecting your dirt from drying out via evaporation through capillary action
- stays cool thanks to the shading quality of the mulch
- doesn’t erode in a sudden downpour
- produces fewer weeds, and the weeds that do sprout through the mulch are generally weaker and easy to pull up and control
- is enhanced by the breakdown of natural mulching products
Mulching is also a great way to change the biosphere of your yard. For example, if your soil is especially basic, it can be hard to grow acid loving plants such as blueberries. Adding an acidic mulch, layer by layer over time, can change the quality of your soil and make it friendlier to plants you want to try.
Biodegradable mulch is an excellent choice if your soil is low in nutrients. Additionally, if the area you’re planting has heavy soil or a lot of clay in the soil, biodegradable mulch such as pine bark mulch will add oxygen to the soil, increase nutrients and loosen the soil. Of course, if your mulch biodegrades, you’ll need to refresh it every year.
Stone mulch is often used around shrubs and trees that do not need to be replanted each year. This mulch is often paired with landscape fabric to keep down weeds and allow moisture and to pass through.
Mulch should be at least two inches thick and no more than four. When laying out mulch, be sure you clear away a broad area of grass around new trees and shrubs; plant flower at the depth directed. Be sure to layer mulch lightly around new plants to avoid damaging tender stems.
Over mulching must be avoided; it can actually kill tender plants, and some forms of mulch can be a fire hazard if stacked too high. Keep your mulch no more than four inches thick around young plants. This will protect the roots, keep them moist and block weed growth.
Adding more than four inches of mulch can cause mold, mildew and rot to infest your young plants. In addition, some forms of mulch can become havens for pests such as slugs, which thrive in cool, moist conditions.
Mulch can be permanent or temporary, depending on the form you install. A simple way to improve your soil is simply to add more mulch every year. The layer closest to the soil will break down and improve the soil it’s next to year on year.
When you go to add new plants, simply work the old mulch into the hole as you turn over the dirt. This broken down mulch is loaded with nutrients and is a great way to lighten compacted, poor soil.
One of the best things about mulch is that it covers your soaker hoses. If you live in an area that freezes, you may want to take up your soaker hoses when you bring in your bib hose. If your climate is not subject to severe freezes, consider putting down soaker hoses permanently. This is a simple process.
Lay out your soaker hoses along the plant roots. Pin the soaker hose to the soil gently with a yardwork staple. If possible, allow the hose to lay on the dirt in the hot sunshine so the hose relaxes and lays flat against the soil. Then mulch over top of your soaker hose.
As you water your garden or flower bed, the water will be applied directly to the plant roots. The layer of mulch on top of the hose will keep the soil damp and reduce evaporation.
Make Your Own Mulch
Many forms of mulch can be purchased at your local garden store, and if you prefer a certain look to your front shrubs and flower beds, you’ll be happier with a uniform, purchased mulch.
However, you can make your own mulch very simply. For example, you could use
- Fresh grass clippings from recent mowings
- Pine needle droppings
- Leaves raked up from last year
- Dead plants from this year’s garden
Please be aware that not all plant materials should be used as mulch; for example, very large leaves can smother plant roots, and some leaves are toxic to new plants. However, most plant material can be used for making mulch, particularly if the plant material was not chemically treated in the past.