Mulching: what, how and why
Mulching stops soil from drying out, promotes soil life and controls weeds in your garden. In short, mulching is the thing to do!
What exactly is mulching?
Mulching is as natural as can be: in nature you often notice soil covered by dense plantlife, fallen leaves or pine needles. These prevent soil from compacting and weeds from forming. Fortunately, dead plant material contains lots of organic matter and valuable soil nutrients. In fact, this dead matter is mulch, so mulching means: covering your soil with a layer of organic matter as in fallen leaves, shredded hedge cuttings or a thin layer of grass clippings. Straw or bark are useful too.
Mulching means less watering
Mulch layers are highly insulating. During heavy rainfall water effortlessly drains into the soil; during dry weather water evaporates far less quickly. The soil not drying out is very beneficial for soil life and considerably reduces watering. Mulch layers keep the soil cooler on warm days and comfortably warm on cold days.
Mulching prevents diseases and pests in summer
In dry weather some plants - particularly Phlox and Monarda - are susceptible to mildew. By spreading mulch around their roots the soil retains moisture much better, reducing this risk.
Mulching - how and when?
In the gardening year mulching is effective:
- in early spring, just before the start of the growing season and the very first weeds appear.
- in summer, when grass clippings and/or finely cut pruning waste are available. Do moisten the soil first, or give it a good soak and mulch afterwards. Take care to use thin layers of grass clippings only, for fear of grass getting hot and sultry.
- in autumn (an ideal time). Fallen leaves offer some protection from frost in winter. Never mulch during frost as you will prolong your soil being frozen or cold.
What to use?
Various materials can be used:
- Organic mulch
Dead matter from perennials, ornamental grasses, moss, bark, finely cut or shredded nettles and grass clippings are all organic mulches which will decompose in due course. They enrich the soil with nutrients over quite a long of time (about three months). Please note that wood chips and fallen pine needles will heighten acidity in garden soil.
Grass clippings offer nitrogen. Should you wish to avoid that, dry your grass clippings first, reducing the risk of mould development at the same time. The major advantage of organic mulch is that it's all reuseable matter from your very own garden.
- Mineral mulch
Small pebbles and even smaller or split pebbles are mineral mulches; they aid good drainage and are therefore most suited for heavy soils. Since they obviously do not disintegrate or decompose they cannot enrich soil with nutrients or organic matter.
Mulching lawn mower
Should you wish to use grass clippings to mulch your lawn, lawn mowers with an integrated mulch system are avaible. Whilst mowing, these machines cut grass into tiny shreds and drop them on the lawn straightaway. It's best to mow your lawn ''normally'' now and again, without mulching it, to avoid overfeeding.
Mulching in the kitchen-garden quite likely prevents strawberries from getting affected by rot. It's an old-fashioned sight, strawberry beds covered with straw, but still very effective! Straw keeps the berries from contacting the soil, which is usually moist in strawberry beds; straw stops them from rotting.