December 24, 2016

Mulching, Enriching The Soil & A Better Growing Environment

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What Is Mulching

wood mulchThe act of mulching is among one of the easiest and most helpful practices you can apply in the garden. Mulch is merely a protective layer of a product that is spread out on top of the soil. Mulches can either be natural such as lawn clippings, straw, bark chips, and comparable products that will break down over time, or inorganic such as stones, brick chips, rubber and plastic. Both inorganic and natural mulching material have many advantages.

What Are The Benefits of Mulching

- lowers compaction and erosion from the effect of heavy rains.
- slows evaporation, minimizing the requirement for regular waterings.
- keeps a more even soil temperature level.
- avoids weed development.
- keeps plants clean.
- keeps your feet clean and allows you in the garden even after a heavy rain.
- gives the garden a nice clean completed look.

Organic mulches likewise enhance the condition of the soil. As these mulches gradually decay, they offer raw material which assists keep the soil loose. This enhances root development, increases the seepage of water, as well as enhances the water-holding capability of the soil. Raw material provides plant nutrients and offers a suitable environment for earthworms and other useful soil organisms.

While inorganic mulches like marbles, rocks or glass, have their use in specific landscapes, they do not enhance the soil like natural mulches do. Inorganic mulches can also be hard to remove if you decide to get rid of them at a later date. I only use the organic natural mulches and therefor that is all I will address here.

Mulching Materials

mulching with leavesYou can find materials in your very own backyard! Grass clippings make outstanding mulch. While not especially appealing for a flower bed, they work incredibly well in the veggie garden. The small texture permits them to be spread out evenly around little plants. Nevertheless, grass clippings are becoming harder to find due to the increased appeal of mulching lawnmowers. They supply the very same advantages to the yard as they do to the garden.

Paper, as a mulch, works particularly well to manage weeds. Leaves are another readily available source to utilize as mulch. Leaf mold, or the disintegrated remains of leaves, offers the forest flooring its absorbent spongy structure.

If you have a big supply, compost makes a fantastic mulch. Compost not just enhances the soil structure however supplies an outstanding source of plant nutrients. Bark chips and composted bark mulch are offered at garden centers. These make a cool surface to the garden bed and will ultimately enhance the condition of the soil. These might last for one to 3 years or more depending upon the size of the chips or how well it has been composted. Smaller sized chips have the tendency to be much easier to spread around smaller plants.

electric chipper shredder

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You can make your own wood chip mulch if you have a supply of wood or brush and a way to chip it up.  They are also handy to have if you want to shred your leaves or other material.

Depending upon where you live, various other products make outstanding mulches. Hay and straw work well in the garden, although they might harbor weed seeds. Seaweed mulch, ground corn cobs, and pine needles can likewise be utilized. Pine needles have the tendency to increase the level of acidity of the soil so they work best around acid-loving plants such as blueberries.

You can use just about any organic material, even weeds. You will want to limit the number of seeds that you introduce to the garden though. See my post on composting.

When Do You Apply Mulch

Time of application depends upon exactly what you wish to accomplish by mulching.  Mulches, provides an insulating barrier in between the air and the soil, and will keep the soil at a more constant temperature. Your garden will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  The only drawback to mulching your garden is the tendency of the soil to not warm up as quickly in the spring as an un-mulched garden.  However, the soil will stay warmer longer in the fall, thus extending your growing season.

It might be best to add mulch to your beds after they have warmed up in the spring if you are just starting to use mulch.  I have been adding mulch to my garden for several years so to me it doesn't matter when I add.  I just keep adding on top of what is there. See my post on lasagna gardening.

How To Apply Mulch

Begin by asking yourself the following questions.

Exactly what do I wish to attain by mulching?

Weed control?
Wetness retention?
Soil enhancement?

Just how much mulch will I need?

How big is the location to be mulched?  Mulch is determined in cubic feet. As an example, if you have a location 10 feet by 10 feet and you want to use 3 inches of mulch, you would require 25 cubic feet. (10' x 10' x .25' = 25 cu. ft.).

Identify exactly what mulch product you would like to use.

Store Bought Mulches

mulch in a bagMulch can typically be bought bagged or bulk from garden centers.  Bagged mulch is typically much easier to deal with, particularly for smaller sized jobs.  The majority of bagged mulch can be found in 2-cubic feet bags for $3 to $6, depending on the type.

If you will require a lot of mulch, you can get it in bulk if you have a way to transport it.  Some places will deliver if you get a large enough amount, usually that will be several cubic yards.  A cubic yard is a 3ft x 3ft x 3ft amount, which is 27 cubic feet or fourteen 2-cubic foot bags.  A yard of mulch will run $30 to $50 depending on the type.  As you can see, it is definitely cheaper to buy in bulk.

Self Collected Mulches


Collect your leaves in the fall.  I get as much as I can from the neighbors.  They will bag them up and put them out on the curb to be picked up.  So I pick them up.  I then spread them out and soak them down so they don't blow away.  Usually I will put grass clippings or straw on top to help keep them in place.  Many people will shred the leaves with a lawnmower first but I just leave them whole.  It has been shown that shredded leaves can keep some plants from growing, so it is best to compost them over a few months if possible.  Don't pile up more that about 6 inches worth or it will begin to rot and smell.

Grass clippings

As I said before, grass clippings make a great mulch, just don't use clippings from yards treated with herbicides and pesticides.  If you have a lot of clippings then you might want to mix with leaves or straw or some other brown material and allow to compost.  Unless you are just spreading a thin layer of a couple inches or so, grass clippings by them selves can start rotting and make a slimy, smelly mess.  Spread them right away to prevent rotting.


Save your newspapers.  Don't use any of the glossy or colored pages though.  The colored inks can be toxic. You can use the newspaper as is or it can be shredded.  Just lay down a few sheets and cover with some other kind of mulch like leaves or grass clippings to keep it from blowing away.  You can also just put some soil around the edges.  This is a great way to keep weed seeds from germinating.  If you shred your papers, just spread like you would any other mulch.

Some thing to keep in mind.  Smaller sized chips are much easier to spread out, particularly around little plants.  Avoid contact with plants when spreading your mulch.  If you mulch all the way up to the plant it can cause disease and rot.  When spreading out mulch around trees, keep the mulch an inch or 2 from the trunk.  2 to 4 inches of mulch is enough.


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