Mulching is the practice of placing a loose surface onto the
surface of soil in your flower or vegetable garden in order to
protect, insulate and beautify the area. This loose covering is
called a mulch and it can be either of an organic or inorganic
variety. Examples of mulches include compost, stone and grass
clippings. Every gardener should understand the many benefits of
mulching the soil in their garden. This article will discuss the
benefits of mulching, how to choose the correct mulch and have a
quick look at some of the different types of organic and
inorganic mulches available.
Benefits of Mulching
explore some benefits of mulching:
* Prevents soil
erosion - Soil erosion happens when winds or water slowly wear
away the surface of soil and remove it. Mulching your soil will
prevent this as there is now a protective, replaceable
layer.that comes between the surface of the soil and the forces
of nature above it.
* Insulates the soil in winter - The
harsh temperatures of winter can be unkind. Mulching the soil in
winter will insulate the soil preventing it from repeated
patterns of freezing and thawing and will insulate plant roots.
It prevents heaving (buckling upward) of soil in spring. Mulch
should be applied to the soil when it has frozen and removed in
spring only when there is no danger of further frosts.
Winter-mulched soil thaws out more quickly in the spring.
* Cools down soil in summer - A layer of mulch in summer
protects the soil beneath from the extreme heats of summer and
reduces the need for constant watering i.e. water retention is
* Helps against soil compaction - The layer of
mulch acts as a buffer or extra layer between entities that can
cause compaction on the soil below e.g. people, equipment, heavy
* Improves appearance - A mulch applied to your
bed can make it look more complete and attractive. This varies
from mulch to mulch as some are more attractive and natural
looking than others.
* Prevents weed growth - One of the
more useful benefits of mulching is in weed prevention. While
the mulch itself will not stop weeds from germinating it serves
to act as a barrier between the weeds and the outside world
above. When a weed reaches the mulch layer it will not be able
to break above it and it will eventually die back. Some mulches
perform this weed prevention feature better than others. Depth
of mulch is also a contributing factor. Care should be taken
however when selecting mulches as some mulches like grass
clippings and straw may actually contain weed seeds.
Keeps fruit and vegetables clean - A layer of mulch reduces the
chances of fruit and vegetables getting dirty from splashes from
the soil below.
Choosing the Correct Mulch for Your
Careful thought should be given when choosing a mulch to apply
to your garden as each is different and should fit in with your
exact requirements. Here are some common factors that should be
* Soil pH suitability - Some mulches like
bark mulch and pine needle mulch can affect the pH value of soil
so they are best used on soils containing acid-loving plants.
* Removal in spring - Certain mulches need to be removed in
spring because they can smother emerging plants. Examples
include stone mulch and bark chips.
* Cost - Is cost a
limiting factor in your choice of mulches? If so you can find
your mulch for free if you choose certain types. If you keep a
compost heap then you will have compost for mulching. Other free
mulches (if you have the sources) are pine needles and grass
* Appearance - Do you care about how the bed
will look when the mulch is applied? Each mulch adds a different
look and depending on the design of your garden you may want to
choose a mulch that matches it in colour and texture.
Penetration by water and air - Some mulches are better at
allowing water and air to pass through them than others. This
may be important depending on a plant's watering requirements.
* Addition of nutrients to the soil - Organic mulches add
nutrients back into the soil when they decompose. The nutrient
types and their amounts added back into the soil depend on the
mulch and it varies quite a bit. Using compost as a mulch
guarantees plenty of nutrients for your plants.
Types of Organic Mulch
This type of mulch once used to be living material and as such
will decompose over time. During their decomposition vital
nutrients will be added back into your soil. However you may
want to avoid using organic mulches if you have rodent problems.
Some common organic mulches are:
* Compost - Mulches and
feeds the soils as it decomposes. This mulch is free if you have
access to your own compost heap. Apply at a depth of 1 - 3
* Pine Needles - Commonly used with acid soils.
Cheap, looks great and allows water to pass through freely to
the soil below. It decomposes quite slowly however. Apply to a
depth of 1 - 1.5 inches
* Straw - Provides great
insulation, water penetration and weed control. Care should be
taken that straw does not contain weed seeds itself. Apply to a
depth of 6 - 8 inches.
* Grass Clippings - Readily
available and decomposes quite quickly adding nitrogen back into
the soil. Try not to apply too fresh as it can heat up quite a
bit and possibly cause damage to your plants. Apply to a depth
of 1 inch.
* Newspaper - Provides great weed control and
is readily available. Apply another mulch on top to keep it in
place. Apply in 2 layer sections.
Some Types of
Inorganic mulches are inert materials that have not originated
from living material. Sometimes inorganic and organic mulches
are used in conjunction with one another. For example a
geotextile (inorganic mulch) may be covered and held in place by
bark chips (organic mulch). Some common inorganic mulches are:
* Stone - Looks great and provides great insulation. If removal
in spring is a factor in your choice of mulch avoid using stone.
Degrades very, very slowly. Apply to a depth of 2 - 4 inches.
* Plastic - Does not decompose so it does not add anything into
the soil. Acts as a great weed control and is easily laid. Must
be perforated to allow water to pass through. Apply in a
thickness of 1 - 6 mm.
* Geotextile - Expensive
blanket-like synthetic fiber that provides great weed control
and allows for water penetration. Almost always used in
conjunction with a cover mulch (e.g. bark chips). Apply in a
In this article we looked at
the many benefits of mulching and the different types available.
Maybe take the time today to decide which mulch to use in your
garden if you have not mulched in the past. You may be surprised
at how cheap the process can be if you use mulches such as
compost from your compost heap, grass clippings from your lawn
cuttings and/or the Sunday newspapers! Happy mulching.
About the Author:
Francis Kilkelly runs a great gardening community at
containing a forum and gardening blogs (
). Original Article Location: