How to Mulch Your Garden

How to Mulch Your Garden
Why should I mulch?

Mulch is a safe, natural way to protect your flowers, vegetables, trees, and shrubs from all sorts of common garden problems. Just like the layer of organic waste that nourishes and protects plants in their natural homes (think of the layer of leaves you find on the forest floor), mulch will help your plants grow happy and strong. Uses include –

Garden Water Conservation Kit

Garden Water Conservation Kit

• Helping the soil retain water: Water is lost from the soil through evaporation, so when you shade the ground from sunlight and protect it from the wind you’re helping your yard hold on to the water it needs (and reducing your water footprint).

• Controlling the soil temperature: Mulch acts like a blanket for the roots of your plants. It will trap daytime heat to prevent freezes and can also keep the soil from getting too hot when you’re growing cold-weather plants.

• Stopping weeds: By blocking access to sunlight and oxygen, mulch makes it harder for plants to germinate. Pesky weeds won’t even have a chance to get started, leaving all the nutrients and space for your garden plants.

• Fertilizing the soil: Because mulches are organic waste, they will eventually start to break down, and when they do they’ll be feeding nutrients into the soil.

• Reducing erosion: Mulch will help your yard hold onto nutritious topsoil by preventing runoff from rain.

What should I use?

You don’t have to look past your own yard to find the best mulches: compost, wood chips, leaves, pine needles, and grass clippings all make nutritious, easy mulch. To get started, make sure the areas you want to cover are free of weeds and have been given a good watering, then layer with 2 – 6 inches of material. The amount you use will depend on the type of mulch: airier materials like bark and pine needles should be piled deep, while you will only need a few inches of denser materials like compost or finely ground wood chips.

If you’re mulching warm weather plants, make sure to wait until temperatures are consistently warm – you don’t want to make it harder for the soil to soak up the sun’s heat in the early days of spring. Similarly, mulching cold-season vegetables when the weather starts to warm can help keep your plants cool and prolong their growing season.

Anything else I should know?
Soaker Hose

Soaker Hose

Keep in mind that natural mulches will change the nutrients in the soil as they decompose. If you’re using a high-carbon mulch like sawdust, wood chips, or corncobs, you’ll want to add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to keep the soil balanced. Mulches like pine needles or leaves already have a higher nitrogen content and may change the pH of your soil. If you aren’t sure what your garden needs, try using home compost or a mix of wood chips and leaves to make sure your plants are getting all the nutrients they need.

Finally, when you water your plants you’ll want to be sure it’s getting all the way down to the roots. The best way to get water where it’s needed is to lay down soaker hoses before you mulch so that water is applied directly to the soil; if you water over mulch, you’ll likely lose most of it to evaporation and runoff. If you don’t want to use soaker hoses, you can water efficiently by gently pushing mulch away from the base of your plants and watering right onto the soil. Remember, mulch will help trap moisture, so mulched plants will require less water than open areas.

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