As you start your gardening journey, you might have heard of applying mulch to your plants to improve moisture retention or any other benefit of mulch. But, you don’t know how to apply mulch or what type of mulch to use in your garden.
In this guide, we are going to help you mulch with the correct materials and in the best-preferred method of mulching.
What is Mulching
Mulching is a gardening activity that is practiced to benefit plants. It is an act of covering the soil with mulch to improve the soil and prevent moisture from escaping from the soil by reducing evaporation. Mulch is the material that you can use to cover the soil.
Mulch comes from garden waste which means the process of mulching is eco-friendly and inexpensive. It can be applied to every garden including flower beds, vegetable gardens, and potted gardens. There are two types of mulch; Organic mulch and inorganic mulch.
Types of Organic Mulch
From the word organic, you can know that this type of mulch involves using formerly living material. Most organic materials are affordable and you can find them in your garden or buy them in bulk.
There are two simple rules you should apply when using organic mulch. First, ensure you weed the soil before you mulch. Secondly, ensure you apply mulch that is thick enough to prevent weeds from growing. In the sun, you can mulch into a thickness of 4-6 inches while in shady areas it can have a thickness of 2 to 3 inches.
The bark is a product of trees and it comes in various colors depending on the tree it’s made from. It’s easier to confuse barks with wood chips, but they are softer and finer and they break down faster.
You can find bark from your nearest tree-care company where they sell them at an affordable price. In most cases, these companies offer the waste for free or at a fee.
The wood chips are also a product of trees and come in various colors depending on the type of tree. Ensure you check the color of the chips to avoid those treated with dyes. Dye doesn’t have an effect on the plant, however, it can be harmful to your pets. Plants can’t absorb the dye, they only absorb nutrients they need to survive. Top dress the wood chips every two-three years.
Wood chips and barks can be used on certain plants but you have to avoid using them on vegetables, flower beds, or plants that are harvested annually. They don’t work on the plant because once you dig the garden, the mulch will get in your way. They work best for long-term plants.
The presence of trees in your garden can provide you with enough mulch for a lifetime. Trees shed leaves naturally when the dry season approaches. You can then use these leaves after shredding them with a leaf-shredding machine. You can also use a lawn mower to cut the leaves into small sizes.
Leaf mulch can work on any plant to protect it from the sun. It works well in a garden pathway and shrub borders.
Grass from your lawn can be the perfect mulch for your garden. Grass cut by a lawn mower is the perfect size for your garden. The problem with grass is that it loses its volume when it dries out and there it’s not easy to find large amounts of it if you have a large garden. It acts as a nitrogen boost when you use it for your vegetables.
When applying grass clipping, apply it in thin layers and ensure it’s dry so that it doesn’t heat up. When it’s wet, it heats up and starts to smell and rot causing problems to the soil.
Straw and Hay
Straw and hay are other good organic mulches for a vegetable garden. They are preferred by most people because they are light which ensures a good flow of air and water into the soil. Also, they can prevent fruits and vegetables from touching the soil thus, keeping them from rotting.
Compost is decayed organic matter made from different organic materials. In most cases, compost is used as fertilizer because of the decayed matter which provides nutrients to the plants.
When you are using compost ensure that it doesn’t dry out because when it’s dry it brings problems to the roots. The best way to ensure it doesn’t dry is to place the compost in thin layers, then add another thin layer of mulch such as leaves to ensure moisture doesn’t escape to the surface. In this way, the mulch provides your plants with all the benefits.
Types of Inorganic Mulch
Stone or concrete can be used as mulch as a natural choice. Even though it doesn’t seem like the right product for your plants, people choose to use it because it is appealing and makes the place look beautiful.
Stone doesn’t need replacement every year like other mulches which makes it maintenance-free and less expensive. The advantages of using stone as mulch are that it suppresses weeds, maintains soil temperature, and prevents moisture loss.
It works best in areas that are windy because other types of mulch can be carried away by the wind. Also, since it’s mostly used for beauty, it works best in flower gardens.
Rubber is a good mulch to use even though it doesn’t offer the soil any type of nutrition. However, it is known best for letting water flow into the roots, being a good insulator, and ensuring that the soil temperature is optimum. Rubber is durable and long-lasting, which makes it suitable for open areas such as playgrounds where there are many people.
Even though it works best even at suppressing weeds, it’s not suitable for applying to vegetables and flower gardens.
What is The Importance of Mulching?
Mulching is the best thing you can do to the soil and for the plants. It has many benefits which include:
- It helps to retain soil moisture by preventing evaporation.
- Mulch absorbs heat that ensures that the soil has the correct temperatures.
- It can suppress weed from growing.
- It prevents soil erosion
- It improves soil nutrients intake
- Mulching improves the health and appearance of the soil.
How Much Mulch Do You Need?
The amount of mulch you need in your garden depends on the plant thickness and the space. Because it’s not necessary to place mulch in different aims for a certain layer on the whole garden. For small plants, apply two to three inches thick mulch and three to four inches for shrubs and trees.
Remember that thickness of mulch matters. If the mulch is too thick, there won’t be enough air circulation or any entry of moisture thus attracting pests, while when the mulch is too thin it will allow the growth of weeds.
When Should I Apply Mulch?
Most people prefer to mulch in the spring when they are preparing the garden for the next season. In the spring, it helps maintain moisture for the young plants and at the same time, suppress weeds. Before mulching, always make sure the soil is warm enough to produce its own heat.
Another good time to mulch is during the winter to protect plant roots from freezing. The mulch is capable of keeping the roots warm during the cold season.
How Do I Apply Mulch?
To apply mulch follow these steps:
- Prepare the soil — Mulch should be applied on soil that is wet. So, when preparing water the soil but don’t overwater it. Remove any weeds that are around the plant by spraying or digging out the whole weed. It ensures that you remove the whole weed including the roots.
- Trim the edges — This process works best in bushy areas or when you are mulching a tree. Trimming the edges ensures that the mulch is placed in one area.
- Fertilize the soil — If you are going to add fertilizer to the plant, ensure that you do that before you mulch. Fertilizing is important to ensure that the plant has enough nutrients.
- Start small — When you start mulching, don’t dump it all at once, start with a small area so that the plant can cope with the surrounding changes. Apply slowly till there is enough mulch in your garden.
- Spread out the mulch — Once you have applied enough mulch in the garden, use your hands or a rake to spread it into layers of 2-4 inches.
Placing the perfect mulch in your garden will ensure that your plants are healthy. Through this guide to mulching, you can find the perfect mulch for you and know when and how to use it.