Mulching

April 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm Leave a comment

Everything in life needs protection whether we are protecting our skin from the sun or protecting our cars from rust.  What about soil?  Soil needs protection from the wind, sun and the rain.  Gardeners and horticulturalists solve that problem by creating a protective blanket on the soil surface called mulch.   Mulch not only protects the soil surface, it also has the added benefits of retaining moisture and providing a barrier to weeds.

What is mulch made of?

    Mulch can be composed of organic (i.e. formerly living) materials such as shredded leaves, hay, straw, grass clippings, and wood chips.  Some organic materials such as cocoa bean hulls are aromatic but if you have pets it can be toxic to them (Harris, 2009).  Shredded newspaper can be good to use as mulch because only vegetable-based inks are used.  Inorganic (i.e. non-living) materials such as plastic sheets, landscape fabric, stones, and rubber mulches can also be used in the garden.  The main issue with inorganic mulches is that they do not breakdown like the organic ones and don’t provide nutrients to the soil.

When do you mulch?

     Usually mulching can be done during the spring (after the snow has melted and the soil surface has warmed up), summer, and fall.  If you choose to apply mulch late in the fall wait until the ground is frozen to prevent the mulch from being used as a shelter to warmth-seeking rodents.  Certain vegetables can only be mulched once the soil is warm and moist such as tomatoes and snap beans.

How do you mulch?

    Different situations in the garden require you to use different mulching techniques.  If you plan on mulching trees and shrubs that are surrounded by lawn, create a donut-shaped ring around each plant extending 3 to 6 feet out.  The mulch depth for trees and shrubs should be 2 to 3 inches and should not be piled against the trunk as it will increase the chance of rot.  If you decide to mulch a flower bed then the entire bed should be covered with a layer of mulch that is 3 inches in depth (Reaf, 2011).  Make sure to spread the mulch evenly across the bed using a small rake to make sure no spots are bare (hands can be used for those tight spaces).

Final thoughts on mulch

 There are times when mulching the garden bed should be avoided.   Do not apply mulch when the soil is too soggy (waterlogged) because air will not be able to reach the soil and it creates ideal conditions for mould to grow on your plants.  Never mulch on extremely dry soil as the mulch will take away the small amount of moisture in the soil resulting in killing off the plants (Harris, 2009).  Please check out the references below for further information on mulching.

Author: Adam Mohamed

References

Harris, M. 2009. Ecological Gardening.  “Mulching and Fertilizing: To Feed and Protect” Random House

McGill University. Ecological Agricultural Projects  “Mulching” http://eap.mcgill.ca/publications/eap64.htm  Accessed on March 24, 2011

Reaf, D. Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. “Mulching for a Healthy Landscape”

http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-724/426-724.html   Accessed on March 24, 2011

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Entry filed under: Drought Tolerant, Gardens, Landscaping, Mulch, Water Efficiency. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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