The Benefits of Using Mulch in Your Landscape
What is mulch?
Mulch is any material covering laid on the surface of the ground, around plants as a protective layer, mainly to prevent the growth of weeds.
It is important to note that mulches serve completely different functions to compost, which works to make the soil more fertile upon decomposition. While organic mulches become some sort of compost upon eventual decomposition, their function as a mulch is distinct. That’s why it is better to spread compost atop the soil, water it into the soil then cover it with a true mulch such as bark chips to ensure it doesn’t lose its ‘juice’.
When mulch is placed around plants or spread out over bare soil, it provides a ton of benefits that go beyond weed control, as we share below:
Why You Should Use Mulch in Your Garden
Gardeners have a hard time weeding their plants to protect their precious gardens as weeds end up competing for nutrients with the plants thus, choking the plant. Thus, by putting mulch around the spots where weeds tend to spout, you can minimize their chances of rapid growth.
Mulches Hold in Soil Moisture
Mulches shield the soil from the sun, preventing evaporation of water after watering the plant. Since the soil retains water for longer, your plants benefit and this prevents them from drying out quickly.
They also reduce water run-off during rain or watering, reducing the amount of water needed and this saves you money and effort.
Mulching Moderates Soil Temperature
In the hot summer areas, the plants are kept cooler through mulching while in the colder months of winter, plant roots are protected from the cold which helps prevent frost-heaving, a condition in which plants are literally pushed out of the ground by the natural expansion and contraction of the soil as it cools off and heats up.
Apart from these main benefits, using mulches in your garden protect plants against mechanical injury during mowing, prevent soil erosion and depending on your choice of mulch, your soil health could be improved-especially with organic mulches.
Types of Mulch
Depending on the climate of your area, the part of the yard you’re looking to mulch, and your budget, your choice of the best kind of mulch will differ.
Thus, the 2 main types of mulches:
- Organic mulches composed of formerly living materials.
They include: chopped or shredded leaves, straw, grass clippings, wood or bark chips, cocoa hulls, hay, pine needles, sawdust or even paper. These mulches eventually decompose and provide nutrients that improve the soil. Thus, perfect for young plants.
With most organic mulches, a layer of 2 to 3 inches is plenty. Also, the finer the material, the thinner the layer needed.
Chopped and shredded leaves are great for vegetable gardens. However, when unshredded, they can mat together and repel water in rainy areas. To fix this, rake and fluff them up a bit.
Straw and hay are also popular for vegetable gardens. They are inexpensive and make paths less muddy. However, they decompose quickly, easily blow away in the wind and can harbor rodents.
Wood chips are one of the best mulches for trees and shrubs, but may not be the best for vegetables and other annual crops.
Grass clippings are readily available and have high water content, and decompose very rapidly as well. They also tend to mat down and not allow water to pass through. They can form a stinky mess, thus, should be dried or spread thinly to prevent this.
Using sawdust as a mulch is a common and economical practice. Sawdust is acidic, making it a good mulch choice for acid-loving plants.
Paper, particularly, shredded newspaper can be layered to help keep plant roots moist. They have great moisture retention abilities. However, if you wish to keep your garden completely organic, be careful to when using organic mulch that contains dyes like papers.
- Inorganic mulches include plastic sheeting, rocks, rubber chips or non-woven geotextiles. They don’t break down thus
Plastic mulches are good choices for around foundation plantings and other shrubs and trees as these plants don’t require frequent fertilization and weeding for the most part.
Stone and rocks are great at suffocating weeds and show a better success rate at weed-prevention than other types of mulch. They also require little maintenance like churning the rocks to keep dirt off.
However, inorganic mulch hardly breaks down, thus, should be replaced as seen fit.
How to Properly Mulch Trees
The ideal mulch should be dense enough to inhibit the growth of weeds but light and open enough to allow water and air to reach the soil.
To properly mulch your garden:
- Choose the right kind of mulch.
- Pull any existing weeds out of your lawn or garden area.
- Carefully dig around the area you want to mulch. In some cases, you will just need to scrap off the top soil.
- Pour the mulch around the area and rake it to distribute it evenly around the plant.
- Pull excess mulch away from the bases of tree and shrub trunks leaving a donut-like shape since excessive mulch can cause moisture build-up thus an ideal environment for rodents, rot, and fungus.
- Water organic mulch.
Which mulch you choose depends on its function and the aesthetic you are looking to achieve.