Much Ado about Mulch
One of the greatest secrets an organic garden could ever teach another person is the
simple art of mulching. A 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch not only saves you work but also
provides for a proper environment for your soil and your plants.
Mulch limits weeds so there's less weeding to do (and the few weeds that do sprout pull
easily). It keeps soil moist and cool when it's hot, So you don't have to water all the
time. In the winter; it protects plants from cold and fIuctuating temperatures. Finally,
mulch pro' ides a garden aesthetic without it there only bare earth.
There are two categories of mulches: Inorganic and Organic. Inorganic mulches, such as
plastic fabric and decorative stones do the same things organic mulches do, but they
contribute nothing to the soil. Organic mulches are made from natural plant materials, so
they improve the soil structure and add nutrients as they decompose.
Mulching your garden doesn't have to cost anything. You can make it from the organic
materials found in your yard or neighborhood.
Grass clippings - Many gardeners mulch with grass clippings, hut doing it successfully
requires some caution. If applied alone, grass clippings can mat down and make a dense
carpet that's difficult for air and water to penetrate. If applied fresh, grass clippings
can deprive plants the nitrogen they need because soil microorganism consume it as they
decompose the grass. Another thing to watch out for are weed seeds in the clippings.
They're like to sprout in the garden.
If you're going to use clippings, he sure to let them turn brown before you leave them in
the garden. Then mix them with shredded leaves or another organic material to hulk them up
and keep them from matting.
- Shredded leaves make a great mulch for a couple of reasons. For one, they're free, and
they're typically in abundance in the fall. They also look natural in the garden. Their
dark, tiny pieces are as inconspicuous as soil, making them well suited for delicate
plants. Shredded leaves decompose quickly, so they need to he replenished once or twice a
year. Of course, the only time you can get newly shredded leaves is in the fall. This
year, instead of setting your leaves out on the curb, shred them with the mower or a leaf
shredder. If they're moist or wet, let them dry. Then place them in unsealed, brown-paper
bag and store them in a cool, dry place until it's time to do your planting. If von live
in the North, you can use them as a winter mulch.
Shredded leaves provide an insulating carpet for garden soil
A Spread of 2- to 3-in. layer of shredded mulch around your plants. To prevent root rot and
allow growth. pull mulch about 3 in. away from the stems. what's available in your area.
If you live along the coast, you can mulch with seaweed. If you live in the South, you can
use salt hay or pine straw. Anything goes as long as the material doesn't mat down
preventing water and air to get through to roots. Oak Leaf mold
makes one of the best mulch if you can find it.
- Shredded hardwood, cypress or red cedar hark form shaggy carpets in the
garden. And they have small pieces that match the scale of small perennials. Shredded
hardwood is dark brown, so it complements any flower color - bright or pastel. Shredded
cypress and red cedar hark are tinted red-orange, so they look natural with
flowers hut clash with pastels.
Cocoa bean hulls -
Tiny shells add rich texture to flower beds. For a
short time they fill the garden with a sweet chocolate scent. If you don't like the color or texture of shredded hark, you might try
cocoa hulls. Like shredded leaves, their dark, tiny shells resemble rich soil. But
these hulls have an added bonus. They fill the garden with a sweet chocolate scent when you
first lay them down. A word of caution, though, cocoa hulls are toxic to dogs, so it's
best to use them in beds your dog can't reach.
Unless there's a chocolate-processing plant near your home, cocoa hulls may be a little
pricey. Other hull mulches you might try are cottonseed, peanut or pecan.
So far, all the mulches mentioned benefit the soil as they decompose. Pine
nuggets are different. Their dark pieces are big, so they break down slowly, contributing
little to the soil. Still, they're a good mulch. They're attractive and they hold down
weeds. Pine nuggets are too coarse for most perennial bed but are perfect for trees and
These big bark chunks decompose slowly, making them perfect for large, low
maintenance plants such as trees and shrubs, plants, leaving about 3 in. between the stems and the mulch (see illustration at left).
This will give plants room to grow, as well as prevent root rot. You want to have at least
a 2-in. laver of mulch during the stimmer, so, if you need to, add more at this time.
Most commercial mulches come in 2-or 3-cubic-ft. bags. The 2-cubic-ft. bag covers 12
square ft. of garden (2 in. deep) and the 3-cubic-ft. hag covers 18 square ft. To
calculate how much mulch vou'll need, measure your garden and divide by six. This will
tell you how many cubic feet you'll need to mulch your garden 2 in. deep. Shredded leaves.
As inconspicuous as soil, shredded leaves complement delicate plants without taking
attention away from them.
Shredded hardwood bark
Dark color and small pieces make shredded hardwood a practical
mulch for almost any plant.
Shredded cypress bark. Its orange tint makes shredded
cypress a complementary mulch for hot-colored flowers.
Choosing a mulch may he the hardest part of the job. But once you decide on tine, the
mulch takes over from there, keeping your garden healthy.
Pine nuggets fit the scale of trees and shrubs Start with a thin layer near the trunk and
increase its depth to 4 in. as it extends to the drip line.
I almost allways much with an acid mulch like Azalea mix so that it decomposes and helps to keep the soil at a good ph level.
More to come on Mulching!
The Invisible Gardener
This page was last update on:
February 23, 2013