Mulch – the protective barrier around your plants in the garden. This barrier is usually made up of organic matter such as leaves, straw or peat. It’s one of the best gardening practices to exercise. The advantages of mulching are vast, here’s 7 of the biggest advantages:
1. Weed Control
Looking to rid the garden of those dreaded weeds – especially in the open spaces of the garden? Through the use of mulch, you can limit the amount of weeds that spring up. The mulch acts as a barrier, limiting the amount of sunlight that can find its way to the weeds.
2. Moisture Retention
Firstly, organic mulches absorb water well. But aside from holding water, both organic and non-organic varieties of mulch cover the soil and limit evaporation. Retaining moisture, especially during hot, dry seasons can not only help out your plants, but it can also help out your water bill.
3. Prevents Soil Erosion
Mulching not only keeps existing water trapped in the soil, it also keeps rain water from washing away your soil. It does this by breaking the fall of the water and therefore lessening the force when the water impacts the ground.
4. Maintains Soil Nutrients
No only does mulch keep soil nutrients from being washed away with the rain, but it also can release nutrients into the soil if you are using an organic material. This happens as the organic material slowly decomposes on top of the soil.
5. Controls Pests
Mulch contributes to gardening by repelling certain pests. Snails and slugs, for example, like to crawl along smooth surfaces, such as exposed soil. Covering the soil with dry and coarse mulch, such as crushed shells, oak tree leaves or wood chip, discourages these pests.
6. Encourages Earthworms & Beneficial Insects to Move In
In addition to repelling pests, mulch also attracts beneficial insects. Mulch forms a warm, dark and damp blanket across the surface of the soil – an ideal habitat for beneficial insects. These insects play a key role in breaking down mulch, converting it into rich humus and improving the soil fertility, texture and structure.
TIP: When adding mulch to your garden beds, avoid piling mulch up against the trunk or stems of plants. This can lead to insect and disease issues. Using a layer of mulch that is too deep can also be a problem – generally, 5-10cm of mulch is recommended for most plants.
7. Neatens up your Garden
Mulch can give a garden a finished look by filling in the empty spaces, while being one of the easiest fillers to maintain. Grass, groundcovers and other fillers may take extensive care, such as mowing and watering, as well as competing for resources with your garden plants. Mulch is easy to care for and never competes with your other plants.
We put together some basic information about some of the more popular choices of mulch:
TYPES OF MULCH
|Grass cuttings||Is cheap, readily available, and easy to apply.||Decays quickly, so you must replenish often. If you use weed killers on your lawn or nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, it may adversely affect other parts of the garden. It can turn slimy if you apply more than an inch or so at a time. If the grass goes to seed before you cut it, the grass seeds can germinate in your garden beds!|
|Wood or bark chips||Looks neat and attractive. It stays where you put it and is slow to decay.||Pine bark mulch is fairly acidic, which you may or may not want for your garden.|
|Decaying leaves||Smothers weeds very well and helps hold in soil moisture.||Is not especially attractive. If it contains seeds, they can germinate and become a weed problem. If the leaves are soft, the mulch can mat. If it’s acidic leaves (oak especially), it can lower your garden soil’s pH.|
|Compost||It’s free and plentiful if you have your own compost pile; adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.||Makes a good place for weeds to take hold; fresh compost (especially if it contains manure or grass clippings) can burn plants.|
|Peat Moss||Looks neat and tidy; is versatile and it also functions as a soil amendment.||It can be expensive. If dry, it will repel water and it becomes crusty over time.|
|Straw & hay||Is cheap and easy to apply.||Is so light it can blow or drift away. It may harbor rodents, especially over the winter months. It isn’t very attractive for ornamental plantings and hay probably contains weed seeds.|
|Gravel, pebbbles, stone||Has a nice, neat look (though not “natural”). It is easy to apply. It won’t wash away easily and will last a long time. It doesn’t need to be replenished over the course of a season in colder climates.||It can allow weeds to sneak through. It provides no benefits to the soil.|
|Landscape fabric (incl black plastic bags)||It keeps weeds at bay. It holds soil moisture and warmth in.||Watering and feeding is hard (you need to cut openings for plants). It can be difficult to apply, unless you’re doing an entire area at one time. It isn’t very attractive and provides no nutritional benefits for the soil.|
|Rubber (shredded re-cycled car tyres)||Very long lasting, available in many colors. It looks like shredded wood mulch.||It can smell strongly of rubber and provides no nutritional benefits to the soil.|