Mulching is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your garden. Mulch reduces water loss from soil, which means less time spent watering your garden, and less water used. The use of mulch will minimize germination of weeds, so there’ll be fewer weeds to compete for water and nutrients, and fewer for you to pull. It improves soil aeration and drainage, and reduces soil erosion. It insulates the soil, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Mulch can also give your garden a well-groomed and professional appearance and keep your plants from becoming dirty.
There are many types of mulch to choose from. The two major types are organic and inorganic. Inorganic mulches include various types of stone, lava rock, rubber, roll plastic, and fabrics. The biggest benefit of using inorganic mulches is that they don’t decompose, and don’t need to be replenished. On the downside, they don’t improve soil structure or provide nutrients to the soil.
Organic mulches include wood chips, pine needles, shredded tree bark, leaves, hay or straw, coir (coconut fibre), and a variety of other products derived from plants, even newspaper made with vegetable-based inks. Organic mulches decompose at different rates depending on the landscape and climate. Those that decompose more quickly will need to be replenished more often. Despite this, organic mulches are generally considered to be a better choice, as the decomposition process improves the quality of the soil.
For well-drained sites, mulch should be spread to a depth of 2-4 inches. If drainage is poor, a thinner layer should be used. Never pile mulch up against tree trunks. Mulch that is too close to the trunk can shelter rodents that will devour the bark of the tree, and can cause problems with fungal diseases.
If mulch is already present, check the depth. Rake the old mulch to break up any matted material and to refresh the appearance, and then add new mulch if needed, making sure not to bring the depth over 4 inches.
Using roll plastic mulches in your vegetable garden can impact your yields. Red mulch has been proven to improve yields of tomatoes and strawberries, while white mulch can increase overall productivity by up to 30%. Be careful if you’re using clear plastic, as it acts like a mini-greenhouse. If using roll plastic mulches, keep in mind that water can only enter where there are holes. The roots of most plants expect to receive water to the drip line, and grow accordingly.
No matter which method of mulching you choose, mulching will improve the overall health of your garden, and will save you a significant amount of time and effort.