Monday, March 5, 2012

What is Mulch?

So what is mulch, and why do I need to use it in my garden?
Mulch is usually organic matter that you add to the top of your garden soil around your plants. Mulch helps to keep moisture from evaporating too quickly from the soil, and it also helps to control the temperature of the soil. Have you ever pushed some rock chips or leaves out of the way and felt the soil temperature of the soil in that spot? It is usually cooler and more moist than a spot that has nothing to cover it.
When you use organic matter as mulch it also breaks down over time, and adds nutrients to your garden soil. It is a great way to add to your soil every year. Top every year with a thick layer of organic matter when the temperatures warm up a bit and after you have all of your plants planted.
We add it not only to our vegetable garden every year, but also to our perennial flower beds.
Some additional benefit to adding mulch is that it makes the garden look nice and weed seeds have a harder time germinating though the mulch so it reduces weeds.

So what can you use as a mulch?

A few things that are used as mulch:
  • Leaves- if they are used, they are best chopped up. this can be done with a lawn mower and collected in the catch bag, or with a leaf chopper. For leaves to properly break down, they would need extra nitrogen applied to them. I use leaves in the fall to add organic content to my beds. I also have a barrel of leaves so that they can break down into leaf mold. the leaf mold is then an EXCELLENT mulch for the garden. But it takes a few years to break down enough to use. Check out my blog post about it for more information.
  • Grass clippings can be used as a mulch, but you need to be careful as they are usually sprayed with things that would be harmful to garden plants. It also tends to mat together, and actually impedes the moisture from getting through to the soil. It also needs a lot of nitrogen to break down. I personally do not use this option as it causes more problems than I want to deal with to make it worth it.
  • Straw can be used as mulch, but it also has some of the same problems as grass clippings and can contain weed seeds. I do not use that option either.
  • Wood chips can be a great option, but I would advise to use really small pieces. It is even better if the wood chips are mixed with some compost. This is what I usually use and add some each year.
  • Some people also use newspaper and cardboard as a mulch, but they tend to get picked up with the wind. So wetting them down helps to add weight to it. You would just have to cut holes in it to plant your plants.
  • Compost is the best option in my opinion as it is already broken down for the most part and has excellent properties. You can make your own or purchase some for your garden.

  • Another option is plastic sheeting and cutting holes for the plants to grow through, or small pieces of rubber like cut up tires. I personally do not like this option because it doesn't do anything for the soil other than keep the moisture, raises the temperature of the soil and keeps weeds at bay. This is what many big farms use to grow massive amounts of vegetables, but then it creates plastic waste that can be harmful to our environment.
Choose wisely. In the long run, adding an organic mulch to your garden dose wonders for the soil and atmosphere of your garden. So, Happy Gardening!

No comments: