Thursday, June 15, 2006

Gardening - All About Mulching

by ian Williamson

Mulch is a layer of material spread on top of the soil to conserve soil moisture, discourage the growth of weeds, help prevent erosion and prevent large fluctuations in soil temperature. In other words, mulch modifies the soil micro-climate around your growing plants.

Ideally, mulch is light and permeable enough to allow water and air to pass through, yet dense enough to inhibit or eliminate the growth of weeds.

Mulches may be organic (usually plant material), mineral (crushed stone or gravel), or synthetic (plastics and geotextiles). Understanding their differences will help you choose the best mulch for your situation. Generally speaking, organic and mineral mulches cool the soil while synthetic mulches warm it up.

Any biodegradable material can be used as an organic mulch. Some of the most easily attainable materials include shredded or chipped bark, shredded leaves, hay, straw, and peat moss.

Avoid using whole leaves unless you mix them with straw or some other light material as they tend to mat down and get soggy. They can actually prevent water and air from reaching the soil beneath.

Grass clippings are an excellent choice of mulching material. They're so small they start breaking down and enriching the soil almost immediately. If you do use grass clippings, be sure they don't have pesticide residue on them. Many lawn treatments contain herbicides that kill broadleaf plants, including those that you may be trying to grow in your garden. And of course, if you're mulching a vegetable garden you don't want to be adding poisonous chemicals to it.

You may be fortunate enough to live near a source of industrial by-products that are useful for mulching. Some ideas are sawdust or shavings from sawmills, spent hops from breweries, or composted manure from mushroom growers.

Careful with the sawdust. It's deficient in nitrogen so you might want to mix it with some compost. Also, softwood sawdust is acidic, so you don't want to use it too close to plants that prefer a neutral or alkaline soil.

Advantages of mulching:

Mulched plant roots are not subjected to extreme temperatures. Unmulched roots get hot and dry in the summer and can be damaged by the heaving of soil during sudden frosts and thaws in winter.

Organic mulches and some mineral mulches contain nutrients that gradually wash down into the soil and fertilize the plant roots.

Weeding and hoeing the garden are practically eliminated when you mulch! The few weeds that manage to poke up through the mulch are easily nipped out, and there's no need to cultivate because the mulch keeps the soil loose.

Mulch protects the soil from the drying action of the sun and wind, and protects it from erosion from wind and hard rain. Mulched plants can often endure a long dry spell with hardly any watering.

Mulch protects vegetables such as squash, cucumber, unstaked tomatoes or strawberries that lie on the ground when they're ripe. The mulch keeps them clean and dry, preventing rot and mildew. Likewise, low growing flowers will not be splashed with mud in a mulched flower bed.

When not to mulch:

Seedlings planted in very moist soil should not be mulched until they are well established, as the higher soil moisture can encourage damping-off, a fungal infection that is usually fatal.

If the soil is waterlogged from spring rains, let it dry out a bit before mulching perennials to avoid crown rot, another fungal infection. It is best to leave an open circle a few inches in diameter around the base of each plant for air circulation.

Don't mulch a low-lying, wet soil.

There's too much to learn about mulching to fit it all into one article, but I hope you can see that mulching has great benefits for your garden and for you.

Your plants will benefit by having their roots protected from heat and dryness in the summer and from frost heaving in the winter, your soil will stay loose and friable, weeding will disappear off your chore list and you'll save water too!

About the Author

For more Garden Articles by Ian Williamson please visit

Mulch Guide

The Basics of Mulch

by Khieng Chho

Mulch is a term used in the agriculture and gardening industry to refer to a protective layer of covering placed on top of the soil to tame the effects of the climate. Mulch can be composed of natural or synthetic materials or the combination of both to form a wide assortment of covering substance.

Farmers and gardeners cover soils with mulch for various purposes. First it controls the proliferation of weeds by depriving them from sunlight and thus decreasing the chance for their germination. Next it helps retain water in the soil by slowing down the process of evaporation. Mulch also doubles as fertilizer when natural mulch materials break down into organic matter and nutrients which are beneficial for plant life. Certain materials of mulch can also repel insects that can be quite harmful to plants. Mulch also helps plants to grow by reflecting sunlight to the plants upwards, which increases the process of photosynthesis - the production of plant food. Mulch also helps provide a dry and clean surface for the thriving of fruits that lie on the ground such as melons, cantaloupes, and squash.
There are many materials used in making mulch. Some materials are used by themselves while other are used in combination with each other. Mulch may be made of organic residues such as dry leaves, hay sawdust, wood chips, shredded newspapers, grass clippings, straw, wool and other safe scrap materials; such materials can also become natural fertilizers as they decompose and break down. Mulch can also be made of compost, fully decomposed materials, too keep the nutritional requirements of the plants. When using compost as mulch, it is important to remove all traces of weeds and their seeds to prevent their growth. Mulch may also be made from plastic to protect the soil and maintain its consistency. This is especially helpful for large agricultural industries. Another a material for mulch are organic sheets, they serve similar purposes as with plastic mulch, but they are biodegradable and thus more environment friendly. Rock and gravel can also serve as mulch, they are most often used to retain heat in cold areas and seasons. Pine needles can also be used as mulch and they are helpful in adjusting the soil temperature, keeping the soil warm during spring and fall, and cool during the summers.

The application of mulch usually occurs around the start of each growing season. If necessary, additional mulch is applied throughout the period. During the early stages of germination, mulch serves as insulator that keeps necessary heat within the soil. This helps seed to grow quickly and seedlings to grow rapidly as well. During the latter stages of plant growth, mulch regularizes moisture and temperature, keeping the plant and the soil in good condition for growth. At this point, mulch is also used to prevent the thriving of weeds. Mulch may also have certain aesthetic purposes. Shredded wood or other materials can be colored to look good in the landscape.

Mulch can be applied either manually or with the help of machines. Certain equipment may help applying mulch. For instance, plastic mulch can be laid down by a tractor as it forms planting beds in the field. Otherwise, mulch can be placed by the farmers and gardeners' hands.

There are other types and functions of mulch. They are such helpful components of landscapes as they provide many things that are beneficial to farms and gardens.

About the Author

Khieng 'Ken' Chho is the author and owner of Online Mulch Resources. For more information, visit Ken's website:

Mulch Guide