Mulching is a process in which a thick layer of organic material is applied to the topsoil of a garden. This is done to increase soil fertility and moisture retention as well as suppress weed growth. The most common types of mulch-worthy materials include dead leaves, bark chips, compost, and grass clippings.

Before beginning this task, it is essential that you wear protective eyewear and gloves for your own protection against diseases such as allergies or infections from exposed plant matter. In addition, choose an area that has been exposed to sunlight for at least six hours each day with rich soil that drains properly without becoming soggy or dry excessively. Any bushes or large plants that are growing in the area should also be removed or planted elsewhere.

Why is Mulching Important?

Picture of after mulching
After Mulching
Picture of Before Mulching
Before Mulching

Most obvious reason to mulch is to retain moisture in the soil, which prevents drought conditions that kill plants.  Mulching also increases water infiltration into the root zone of plants preventing erosion and runoff which can carry away topsoil.

oils on the soil surface reduce evaporation, thus increasing water retention.  Another added advantage of mulch is its ability to continually release nutrients as it decomposes.  When choosing a material for a mulch layer, a general rule is two inches or more , though this may vary depending on what you are using and where in the country you live.

If your plant container has drainage holes in the bottom, add gravel several layers thick over potting soil before applying the mulch. This prevents the soil from coming out through the drainage holes and allows air to pass freely around roots.

Potting soil, sand or vermiculite also works as a good mulching material for containers.  Micro-nutrients added to these can leach into the soil over time so it is best not to use sand in planting seeds and cuttings.

If you are using organic materials such as leaves, straw or grass clippings for mulch, be sure that no pesticides have been applied beforehand as these chemicals will potentially harm plants.  Weeds can also grow with certain organic mulches such as grass clippings, but they will die once the clippings begin decomposing and providing nutrients.

Advantages of Mulching

Mulches help regulate soil temperature, moisture and pH.  A mulch will keep the soil cool in the summer and warm in the winter by blocking sunlight from reaching plants’ roots.  Additionally, it helps conserve water by limiting evaporation of humidity from the soil.   Mulches also add organic matter to soils while they break down; this increases water retention and aeration for better root growth.

• Mulching will help to keep your plants healthy by providing them with nourishment

• If you have a weed problem, mulching is the most effective way to get rid of them naturally

• For every dollar that is spent on mulching, 3 are saved in future gardening needs.

Types of Mulch

There are many types of mulches available that provide the benefits mentioned above.  However, some organic mulches break down faster than others, which makes them less desirable for long-term use. Here is a list of several common mulches and their traits:

Cardboard or newspaper – Protects soil against weed growth while decomposing quickly; not aesthetically pleasing.  May be toxic to plants if they’re printed with inks containing heavy metals.

Compost – Decomposes slowly; provides nutrients as it breaks down; supplies beneficial organisms that enhance soil quality.

Grass clippings – Slow to decompose; can mat into layers if left on topsoil too long; also contains weed seeds.

Leaves – Slow to decompose; can mat into layers if left on topsoil too long; add organic matter and nutrients as they decompose (especially nitrogen).  However, may contain disease or insect larvae that remain in the leaves. Only suitable for use in a compost pile or mulching around perennial plants.

Pine needles – Slow to decompose; absorb water and don’t mat down so well but do last a long time.  Don’t provide much nutrition unless combined with other materials such as animal manure, which contains nitrogen and other nutrients.

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