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Mulching: Why is it SO important?

Inside: Mulching just may be the saving grace of the gardening year. Find out mulching options, what it does for the soil and the best techniques. Find more gardening tips here!

What if gardening could be made easier by implementing one simple technique?

This technique would make your garden:

• Healthier

• Have fewer weeds

• Be more drought-resistant

And if done properly, your garden would allow you to:

• Spend less time watering

• Weeding

• And fighting pest problems

Seriously, it’s true!

And what would this one technique be?

MULCHING!

There are so many advantages of mulching!

My first years of gardening went like this: begging my husband to till, weeds, 5-foot tall quack grass. And trying desperately to find actual veggies that *really* were planted. Amazingly, I was able to get quite a bit of vegetables, despite my lack of knowledge.

But! There is a better way.

First off, I implemented the “no-till” gardening method. And what a difference! This difference was first noted when there wasn’t a nagging war to get the tilling done in the spring! 😉 But there are so many other benefits! I’ll let the no-till gardening post do all the explaining.

Worried that not tilling will increase your workload? Please keep reading. Fears will be squelched!

I also began to understand why my garden had weeds in the first place. If your garden has weeds, there are very good reasons they are taking root! And you need to know why: Why does my garden have weeds?

There is also a very important tool that all gardeners should implement: cover crops. It has made an amazing difference in my garden!

I also started mulching with straw. Deep straw.

Mulching just may be the saving grace of the gardening year. Find out your mulching options, what it does for the soil and the best techniques.

Several different types of mulching materials can be used.

• Organic mulches (formerly living material)

• Chopped leaves

• Straw or hay (weed free)

• Grass clippings

• Compost

• Wood chips

• Shredded bark

• Sawdust

• Pine needles

• Paper

•  Inorganic mulches

• Gravel

• Stones

• Black plastic

• Geotextiles (landscape fabrics)

Both of the options, organic or inorganic, will keep weeds subdued. And there would be different reasons to choose one or the other.

(The Three Cardinal Rules of mulching below!)

(Take a look at the free stuff first though 😉 )

Organic material

Advantages of organic mulch:

• Breaks down and decomposes

• Helps to enrich the soil

• Helps to retain moisture in the soil

• Encourages earthworm activity

• Prevents soil compaction

Cons: 

• Some mulches, like wood chips and sawdust, deplete nitrogen in the soil

• The mulch retains moisture and can slow the soil from warming up in the spring

• Left touching the stems or bark of a plant or tree, mulch will rot the base of plants and may also encourage rodents to nest in the material

• Mulch may also harbor slugs and snails

Know when to water your garden: The Finger Test

Inorganic material

Advantages of inorganic mulch:

• Black plastic, for instance, will help warm the soil and keep heat loving plants toasty, even during the night. In fact, the soil will be about 3 degrees warmer

• Keeps produce from rotting

• Keeps produce clean

• Helps to retain moisture in the soil

• With careful care and storage, it can be reused

Cons:

• Rain and water cannot permeate the material, so a soaker hose would be used for watering. Oxygen cannot penetrate through the plastic, so roots of plants and shrubs can be damaged long term as their roots grow closer to the surface. Shallow roots do not withstand drought or extreme temperatures well.

• Oxygen cannot penetrate through the plastic, so roots of plants and shrubs can be damaged long term as their roots grow closer to the surface. Shallow roots do not withstand drought or extreme temperatures well.

• Plastic is not biodegradable and is made from petroleum products

• Harder to find a place to recycle plastic

• Landscape fabric has some drawbacks as well. There are several things that can go wrong with these fabrics: roots from below can grow up into the fabric and weed seeds can germinate on top of the fabric. Both of these problems will cause the fabric to rip when weeds are pulled or the fabric is removed.

There are a few “cardinal rules” to mulching.

If piles of materials are going to be gathered, it only makes sense that the materials are used to the best of their ability. It makes no sense to put down mulch only to have weeds and grass keep poking their pesky heads up.

Rule #1: weed first. This can be done several ways. The weeds can be pulled or the tops cut off just below the surface. The tops (before they have gone to seed of course), would be used as mulch and the roots would add organic material to the soil as it breaks down.

My garden area was grass…5-foot tall quack grass to be exact…before I turned it into my garden area. If I don’t pull every last bit of grass roots from my planting areas, there will be 5-foot tall grass growing faster than you can say “summer!” It’s dense, fast growing and would choke out any vegetables planted. So I’ve chosen to remove those pesky roots as much as I can.

Rule #2: lay down 4-6 inches of mulch to discourage the growth of new weeds. Another option to consider: lay down cardboard as the first layer and then add mulch on top of the cardboard.

You may also find that many weeds and grass can grow…seemingly endlessly…under any mulch or cardboard. When the mulch is lifted up, the plant can be followed to its beginnings and usually pulled rather easily. But that fact right there shows how desperately weeds and grass want to live another day to see the sunlight one more time.

Rule #3: If there are seeds or perennial weeds or grass in the garden bed, put down a layer of newspaper over the first layer of mulch and then lay several more inches of mulch over the newspaper.

The thickness of the mulch will directly impact how many weeds are able to survive. They lose energy as they are pushing up through the mulch and usually die before they are able to reach the surface.

When using the no-till gardening method, mulching will be the saving grace of any garden. 

But it goes beyond just keeping a garden weed-free. Mulch feeds the microorganisms in the soil. And the more abundant life there is down there, the more “food” (mulch) they will need. But the vegetables and soil will be all the healthier from the abundant life, weed free, moist and cool soil during the hot summer months. 

 Mulch, and don’t be stingy about it! 🙂
Mulching just may be the saving grace of the gardening year. Find out your mulching options, what it does for the soil and the best techniques.

 

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