Mulching is a great way to manage garden waste, suppress weeds, and conserve soil moisture. And mulch is any material that you place on top of the soil to provide organic matter, reduce evaporation and keep down weeds. It can be made from many materials including pebbles, bark chips, gravel, leaves, straw, and homemade compost.
Most home gardeners mulch their annual vegetables, but mulching around fruit trees will also improve soil structure and fertility in addition to conserving moisture. The best time to mulch is in autumn or early winter when the ground has had time to dry out after summer rains. If you don’t have mulching materials, look for a mulch supplier.
The material you use for mulch depends on what is available locally and your budget. Shredded eucalyptus tree prunings are readily available from council recycling centers. Cocoa hulls (which are not the same as cocoa husks) are another product that is becoming widely available from garden suppliers and nurseries as a mulch material.
It is important with all mulches to maintain a clear space around the trunk of fruit trees so that there is no contact between the bark and the wet mulch material because this can lead to rotting of the trunk tissue.
How to mulch properly?
You should use mulch whenever you plant anything — trees, shrubs, flowers, and even vegetables. But not all mulches are appropriate for every situation. Here are some tips for using them correctly:
- Use organic mulch for your vegetable and flower gardens. Most organic mulches can be applied 2 or 3 inches deep. Pine needles should be no more than 1 inch deep.
- Leave a “mulch-free zone” around the base of plants and trees by raking back the mulch about 4 inches from the trunk or stems. This prevents problems such as rotting or infestations of insects or rodents; just make sure to wear gloves when raking back pine needles because they can poke you!
- Spread mulch on top of the soil in a 2- to 4-inch layer. The deeper the layer, the slower the soil will warm up in spring and dry out during summer.
- To keep mulch from washing against the siding, spread a thin layer near foundation walls, and fill in with more mulch as it washes down over time; this way, you won’t need to rake the mulch back up against your house every year.
- To prevent birds from making nests in your flowerbeds, use plastic sheeting under your mulch instead of straw or hay; birds can easily weave through holes in loose straw and hay but not through plastic sheeting; if you do use straw or hay, prepare for lots of baby bunnies, mice, and snakes in the spring.
What are the Benefits of Mulching?
There are a lot of good reasons to mulch your garden, but the main one is that it keeps soil moist, which is the main thing you want to do in the garden during hot weather.
Keep the soil moist
When water evaporates from bare soil, it takes energy. So, by keeping soil covered, you reduce evaporation and keep moisture in the soil longer. This means less frequent watering for you, and more time for plants to absorb moisture from the soil rather than having to compete with the sun for it.
Mulch also helps to control weeds. Some people are a little intimidated by laying down mulch because they’re afraid that if they cover the ground, they’ll encourage weed seeds to germinate. And this is true–they will! But this is not a bad thing. Weeds are most beneficial if used correctly; even those pesky dandelions have some medicinal uses. Mulching will decrease weeds in your garden by blocking sunlight from reaching weed seeds before your own plants have had a chance to spread out and choke out weeds themselves.
Recycling waste products
Mulching is also an excellent way of recycling waste products like grass clippings and leaf mold back into your garden beds instead of taking up space in landfills or compost piles. Using these as mulch helps keep the environment clean.
Finally, mulching is a great way to preserve water, keep down weeds, and enrich your garden. It’s also one of the most misused gardening tools around.