As popular as they are in contemporary landscapes, mulches are not a new concept. Read more to learn about this.
For as long as trees have grown in forests, leaves and needles have fallen to the ground, matted together, and formed a natural protective mulch over the soil. Mulching means applying shredded matter (organic or inorganic) over the top-soil. Mulching is generally used to improve the soil around plants, but it also gives your garden a neat and tidy appearance.
Benefits of Mulching
Many different natural and synthetic mulches are available today, but all perform the following basic functions:
- conserves soil moisture
- checks and suppresses weeds
- protects plant roots from extreme temperatures
- improves soil porosity for better air and water circulation
Mulch serves as a natural blanket for the soil, thus effectively conserves soil moisture and prevents the weeds from growing over bare soil. Since mulch prevents the top-soil from drying out, it can reduce average watering needs by about 60 per cent. Mulching also prevents weeds from germinating over exposed soil, who otherwise compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients.
Mulching protects the plant roots from extreme summer heat and keeps the soil cooler by almost 10 degrees. Mulching also protects the soil from frost during winters, which minimises the chances of winter-damage for your dear plants. Mulching is an excellent method to reuse and recycle organic waste of your garden, instead of burning it and releasing air-pollution. Organic mulch also serves the purpose of providing a slow-release organic fertiliser for your soil that doesn’t get washed away during heavy rains.
Mulching reduces the impact of heavy rainfall on top-soil. When water droplets land on bare soil, the impact causes soil particles to fly in all directions, resulting in soil crusting and slow water infiltration. Most mulches break the impact of the droplets, reducing soil erosion and improves the penetration of water into the soil.
Types of Mulches
1. Organic mulch
- grass clippings
- bark chips
- wood chips
- shredded newspaper
- animal manure
2. Rubber mulch: made from old tyres and other rubber materials.
3. Plastic mulch: is also used in which crops grow through slits or holes in a thin plastic sheeting. This method is predominant in large-scale vegetable growing, with millions of acres cultivated under plastic mulch worldwide each year. However, disposal of plastic mulch is cited as an environmental hazard.
Tips for Mulching
- Organic mulch usually takes about 2-3 months to fully decompose, depending on the weather. Therefore, keep applying a new layer of mulch every 2 to 3 months.
- Avoid applying mulch too close to the stem of you plants, as it may cause rot and may prevent good air-flow for the roots.
- Check for the depth of the mulch if the soil already has some mulch in it. There is no need to overfeed the soil as excess mulching may prevent good air and water penetration into the soil. Rake the old mulch to mix it properly with soil and to improve the porosity of the top-soil.
- Newspapers are a cheap option to mulching and effective in controlling weed growth.
- It is preferable to use organic rather than inorganic mulches, as they have soil conditioning properties. Organic mulches not only provides nutrients to the soil but also improves the porosity and water retention capacity of the soil.
- The best time to apply the mulches in your garden is after spring when the soil is warm and humid. It will prevent the unwanted seeds from germinating and growing as weeds, with the beginning of the warmer months.
- Leaves collected during fall season are good for mulching as they are already in half-decayed and dry state.
- Apply mulch with the beginning of the winter season, to protect the roots of you plant from soil-frost and cold damage.
So go and get your hands dirty and mulch your way to happiness. Don’t forget to share your experiences and to spread the word!