Mulch is a thick layer placed on top of the soil around plants. It acts as a physical barrier against sun and drying winds. Mulch can also be used as slow-release food for plants and helps to improve soil structure by allowing worms to incorporate it into the soil. This makes the soil more moist, free-draining, and fertile.
Organic mulches are also rich in nutrients and act as slow-release food for plants. They also attract beetles and worms to the soil as they are being broken down, which is good news for birds.
Types of Mulch
There are many mulches available, both organic and inorganic, each has its own uses. Organic mulches are made of dead plant material like leaves, bark, or grass clippings. Inorganic mulches can include gravel or rocks, but they also include plastic sheeting and landscape fabric. Inorganic mulches are not like organic mulches. Some, like plastic sheeting, can degrade over time and pollute your garden. Inorganic mulches aren’t able to add nutrients to soil and in some cases can even stop soil nutrients from reaching them but can be a better long-term solution for weed suppression than organic mulches.
Composted wood chips or bark – This bulky mulch is slow to break down and can be used to improve soil structure, drainage, and make it more moist. Its dark colour perfectly offsets the plants’ green.
Homemade garden compost – This is an all-purpose mulch that can be used to retain moisture, control weeds, and improve soil quality. Mix kitchen scraps with chopped up garden waste into your compost bin. Turn it every few months. A usable compost should be ready six to twelve months later.
Mushroom compost – This alkaline mulch is easy to use and its light. It is ideal for lime-loving plants, such as brassicas, like cabbages, kale and broccoli, due to its high pH. Avoid lime-resistant, ericaceous plants like camellias, rhododendrons and heathers.
Leaf mould – Low in nutrients, but an excellent soil conditioner. This is a quick and easy way to reap the rewards of a little work. After 12 months, simply bag the leaves and you can mulch them around your plants.
Well-rotted horse manure – This is rich in nutrients and retains moisture well. It is great for mulching around plants such as roses and edibles like pumpkins and squashes. It should not have been allowed to rot for more than two years. Otherwise, it can cause damage to plant leaves and remove nutrients from the soil.
Plastic sheeting or landscape fabric – A layer of plastic over the soil that suppresses weed growth. There are some fabrics that are better than others. Remember that they will eventually disintegrate and release plastic particles into the soil and environment. Impermeable sheets are also believed to prevent rain, air, or nutrients from reaching the soil. This makes them a poor choice for use around plants that require water, nutrients, and air.
Rocks or gravel – Gravel or rock mulches are often used in gravel gardens. They can seal the soil and prevent weeds from growing. Be aware that gravel or rock mulches can heat up in sunlight and make the area too hot for plants to grow. These mulches are best used in drought-resistant plant schemes.
Rubber mulch – Made from tires and can suppress weeds. It also breaks down slowly, but it can be very effective in controlling weeds. It is not known how toxic rubber mulches can be. The potential for harmful chemicals to leach from your soil from old tyres may be present.
When To Use Mulch
Spring and autumn are the best times to mulch, but April is a great time to mulch with organic soil as the soil is still moist and the plants are just beginning to grow.
It is simple to apply compost. Simply lay 5cm of your preferred mulch on the ground or around key plants. Remember that mulch should not be more than 5 cm thick. However, bulbs and other plants will have a hard time growing through more than 5 cm of mulch. You can either use your hands or a spade depending on what material you have to apply the mulch. To ensure that the mulch is evenly distributed, you can use a hoe or a rake.
It is a good idea to prepare the soil before applying mulch. This will save time and effort over the long-term, first grab perennial weeds, and then pull out the annuals by hand. To level out any dips or hollows in the soil, rake it and then re-firm if necessary. Before applying mulch, water thoroughly. This will ensure that the soil remains moist.
Where Should You Apply
Around spring bulbs – Mulching around spring bulbs will help to feed them and keep moisture in their bulbs when the leaves die back. Mulching can also help reduce digging, which can lead to bulb damage.
Around herbaceous perennials – Dark organic mulch is a visual contrast to herbaceous perennials. After watering and dividing the plants, mulching around them will give them an extra boost during the growing season.
Under hedges – Hedges are often neglected, and need to be clipped regularly. They are densely packed with roots and require an annual mulch to retain moisture and nourish the plants. Mulch should be applied to moist soil.
Around fruit trees and bushes – Fruit trees and bushes require plenty of moisture around the roots. This is especially important when fruit is beginning to form. Regular mulching will help to suppress weeds, as well as keep plants healthy and protected from pests and diseases.
How To Make Mulch
Composting garden and kitchen waste can be used to make your own mulch. You can also make leaf molds from your kitchen and garden waste. You can also buy horse manure from your local stables to pile up and rot down. However, it is important to ensure that the animal manure has not rotted for more than two years to avoid scorching your plants.
Problems That May Occur
Mulch problems are usually caused by mulching too thickly. This can prevent bulbs and other herbaceous plants growing. To help your plants grow better, gently use a rake and long-handled cultivator.
Manure used to mulch plants can also cause problems. Manure that isn’t properly rotted can cause plant leaves to become scorched and even distorted. Certain types of organic mulch can cause soil to heat up, disintegrate and possibly leach harmful chemicals.