Mulching can enrich and protect soil, helping to provide a better growing environment.
Mulching is also one of the simplest and most beneficial practices you can use in the garden. Mulch is simply a protective layer of several different kinds of material that is spread on top of the soil. Mulches can either be organic-such as grass clippings, straw, bark chips, and similar materials - or inorganic - such as stones, brick chips, and plastic. Both organic and inorganic mulches have numerous benefits.
Mulch has many beneficial uses, such as:
1. It protects the soil from erosion
2. It reduces compaction from the impact of heavy rains.
3. It conserves moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering.
4. It maintains a more even soil temperature.
5. It prevents weed growth.
6. It keeps fruits and vegetables clean.
7. It keeps feet clean, allowing access to garden even when damp.
8. It provides a "finished" look to the garden
Organic mulches will also improve the condition of the soil. As these mulches slowly decompose, they will provide organic matter which helps keep the soil loose. This improves root growth, increases the infiltration of water, and also improves the water - holding capacity of the soil.
Organic matter is a source of plant nutrients and provides an ideal environment for earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms.
While inorganic mulches have their place in certain landscapes, they lack the soil improving properties of organic mulches. Inorganic mulches, because of their permanence, may be difficult to remove if you decide to change your garden plans at a later date. Because of this I will only discuss the use of organic mulches.
Mulch materials that you will need:
First of all you can find mulch materials in your own yard
Lawn clippings make excellent mulch. This may not be particularly attractive for a flower bed, but they will work wonderfully in a vegetable garden. The fine texture allows them to be spread easily even around small plants. However, grass clippings are becomoing scarce because of the increaed popularity of mulching lawnmowers that provide many of th esame benefits of mulching to lawns. Newspaper, as a mulch, works especially well to control weeds. Leaves are another readily available material to use as mulch. Leaf mold, or the decomposed remains of leaves, gives the forest floor its absorbent spongy structure. Compost makes a wonderful mulch if you have a large supply. Compost not only improves the soil structure but provides an exellent source of plant nutrients.
You can get bark chips and composted bark mulch at garden centers. These will make a neat finish to the garden bed and will eventually improve the condition of the soil. These may last for one to three years or more depending on the size of the chlips or how well composed the bark mulch is. Depending on where you live, numerous other materials make excellent mulches. Hay and straw work well in the vegetable garden, although they may harbor weed seeds. Seaweed mulch, ground corn cobs, and pine needles can also be used. Pine needles tend to increase the acidity of the soil so they work best around acid - loving plants such as rhododendrons and blueberries.
When to apply your Mulch:
The time of the application depends on what you hope to achieve by mulching. Mulches provide an insulating barrier between the soil and the air, and moderate the temperature. This means that a mulched soil in the summer will be cooler than an adjacent un-mulched soil. In the winter, the mulched soil may not freeze as deeply. However, since mulch acts as an insulting layer, mulched soils tend to warm up more slowly in the spring and cool down more slowly in the fall than un-mulched soils.
If you are using mulches in your vegetable garden or flower garden, it is best to apply after the soil has warmed up in the spring. Cool, wet soils will slow seed germination and increase the decay of seeds and seedlings.
If you add additional layers of mulch to exixsing perennial bed, wait until the soil has warmed completely.
Tina M. Haun,