To improve the soil, create a sustainable environment for beneficial insects, and limit plant watering, there’s nothing better for your garden than mulching. But what exactly is it, and how to achieve it? We show you in this brand new article.
What is mulching?
In nature, bare soil is an abnormal condition. To cover it adequately, the gardener uses mulch.
Mulching is a technique where you cover the soil with organic, inorganic or plastic materials to feed and/or protect the plants. These materials are deposited at the base of the plants.
Where can you mulch?
You can apply this technique pretty much anywhere in your garden: young trees, shrubs, orchards, hedges, perennials, etc. You can even mulch your potted plants and flowers.
When should you mulch?
You can use mulching throughout the year. Here are some specific tips for each season:
Spring: Remove any heavy mulch. The soil will warm up and prevent the proliferation of parasites.
Summer: In hot weather, spread mulch on moist soil. Remember to rake in prolonged drought, to allow rain to penetrate the soil.
Fall: Cover the ground after making it looser. Come springtime, it’ll have an excellent texture and high fertility rate. Mulching in fall also has the advantage of protecting herbaceous plants from the cold.
Benefits of mulching
With a bare soil (which doesn’t exist naturally), evaporation (water loss) is three times greater than on forest soil. When it comes to plant transpiration (the second major loss of water), it is also increased in the summer when temperature rise and warm the plants’ roots.
Mulching will absorb watermaintain moisture in your soil. Overall, mulching will be a good method to reduce water intake.
Avoid chemical weed control
Mulching prevents light from reaching the surface. Weeds won’t be able to germinate and grow. No need to spend money on weed control, and other herbicides that could damage your plants.
Mulching protects the soil from climatic conditions and avoids the phenomenon of soil capping (soil compaction under the action of rain). With mulch, there won’t be the formation of an impermeable surface crust, which would prevent rainwater from infiltrating the soil.
Create sustainable environment for insects
Many insects are actually very beneficial to your plants. Materials used in mulching can often be used as refuge by these insects. They’ll be attracted by the nectar from flowers, and will take cover during winter.
Organic mulch will eventually decompose into humus (not to be confused with the food, hummus). Humus will enrich your soil and increase its fertility.
Using an organic mulch will eventually decompose into humus, you enrich the clay-humus complex your soil and increase fertility by contributing to moisture and nutrient retention.
Improve growth and health of your plants
Mulching helps to reduce the stress felt by your plants. You’ll be preemptively acting to prevent growth disorders or sensitivity to parasitic attacks. Water will carry fungus found on the ground and could be harmful to your plants. Mulching will help prevent them from being distributed on your crops.
Improve microbial life in your soil
Your surface will be subject to regular changes in temperature, humidity and concentration of organic compounds. It’s important to keep them as constant as possible, which in term will make the environment more conducive to development of micro-organisms. In fact, it will be them that will bring nutrients (fertilizers) thanks to their digestion. You’ll get free and natural mineralization.
Which materials to use as mulch?
Many organic and inorganic materials (gravel, green garden waste, etc.) can be used as mulch. Generally, you should prefer local sources.
There are several types of mulch:
They are composed of plant material. Degradation into humus is more or less fast. It depends on the concentration of lignin. For example, you can count on a few weeks for grass clippings, and a few years for wood chips.
Durable mulch, like wood chips and pine bark, are mainly used for perennial plants (trees and shrubs).
Mulch with shorter life-span, such as grass clippings or leaves, can be used on any type of plant. They are very interesting for plants with a short life cycle because they are incorporated quickly into the ground.
Try to be original. It’s very easy to come up with a natural mulch by keeping nut shells.
Don’t use pine needles, evergreen shrubs and cedars that have a hard time degrading. Keep them for your garden paths or trails. When it comes to pine bark, be careful with the acidity of the soil. Use them only for large bedding plants.
These mulches are not biodegradable and therefore have an infinite lifespan (on our scale). They contribute to the warming of the soil and are especially recommended for heat-loving plants such as rock plants.
A common mineral mulch is pozzolan. It’s a rock composed of volcanic projections rich in silica. It has a honeycomb that provides good thermal insulation.
Clay pellets, crushed slate and potsherds can also be used. They can become real decorative elements in your garden.
Like with organic mulch, don’t forget to keep some of your food waste, such as oyster shells, for an interesting mineral mulch.
Plastic mulch is usually a tarp stretched out on the ground. Plastic films are more less biodegradable, and are not very nice-looking. Woven cloths or other textile materials can also be served to retain terrain from steep slopes or lake shores.
How to set up mulch
Remember to choose your mulching based on your plants and how long you want to protect them.
To mulch, you’ll need to do a few simple steps:
- The soil must be thoroughly weeded, as mulching is not a herbicide. It will only prevent the growth of weeds.
- Spread a thick mulch layer, of about 3 inches. Take care not to cover the neck (separation point between the stem and roots of a plant). Remember that organic mulch becomes humus. Regularly add a few inches.
- You can start by mulching seedlings at 1-2 inches, and then move up to 3 and more after development of the plant. This method allows the benefits of mulching to occur at the earliest.
- Don’t mulch during strong winds.
- Don’t mulch on frozen ground.
- Don’t forget to water before and after you’ve set up the mulch.
- To avoid susceptible plants from rotting, use light and airy materials for your mulch.
- If one type of mulch is best suited for your plants, but you don’t find it aesthetic, you can layer two mulches on top of each other.
What are some of your favorite mulching techniques?