Mulching is the process of covering the soil surface around a plant to prevent it from direct sunshine and other weather agents. Your garden mulch options are varied and an essential practice that should be carried out for a number of reasons. For instance, mulching prevents excessive evaporation of water from the soil, thereby sustaining a constant moisture level. It also reduces weed infestation, while organic mulching adds nutrients to the soil. There are two broad categories of mulches; organic and inorganic.
Organic Garden Mulch Options
Among the most popular types of organic mulch options is compost.
Compost is a mixture of well rotten manure and various vegetative materials prepared to be used as fertilizer. It is a preferred option because it adds a lot of nutrients to the soil. compost is effective if used alongside a thin layer of leaves so that it remains moist and active biologically.
Grass clippings is an organic mulch that is plentiful and free. This makes use of chopped grass, but it should not contain any chemicals as this will introduce pesticides into a garden that is rather organic. This is best for vegetable gardens, though grass decomposes fast and may heat the soil fast.
Pine needles also constitute organic and free mulch materials. They have spectacular looks on all types of gardens. They decompose at a slow rate and allow easy seepage of water. They are lightly acidic and may not be good on soils that do not thrive well in acidic areas but 3-inch layers may not change the soil PH.
Straw and hay too make good mulching material. Straw is purely plant stems while hay contains seedheads. Straw has a fast decomposition rate, adding essential nutrients to plants. Good straw should be free of seeds and weeds. Large piles around the crops may however invite slugs, therefore an 8-inch layer is sufficient.
Leaves from most deciduous trees work best as mulches besides controlling weeds. To prevent the leaves from being blown away, chop them, preferably by running a mower over them. Leaf mulches look appealing on shrub borders and flower beds.
Wood chips and sawdust are also efficient mulches. Wood chips may be offered free by utility and tree companies as waste products. Cedar mulch is a great choice to consider because of all the benefits to your garden, but it’s also one of the most expensive mulching options. These types of mulches work best near paths and where there is a large ground to be mulched. Sawdust is a good for weed control, but it should be used in conjunction with nitrogen since sawdust only contains carbon.
Inorganic Garden Mulch Options
Inorganic mulches are made from non-plant materials and they can provide a unique and cost effective solution.
Plastic mulch is recommended for plants like melons which require a warm weather because the plastics aid in heating the soil. Plastic mulching is divided into black, red, and clear. Clear plastic is used in warming the soil in preparation for planting. It may however favor growth of weeds, but is available in plenty and cheaper compared to black plastic. Black plastic on the other hand is excellent in weed control. It is decomposed by sunlight and may require replacement after two years. Red plastic mulch was scientifically developed for the cultivation of tomatoes. It reflects some light waves from the sun to the plants, which are thought to increase growth.
Rubber mulch is synthetic, and is produced by recycling rubber. It is cheap but stays in the garden for long. Though it is not of nutritive value to the crops, it smothers weeds completely and maintains the soil damp and cool and is well suited for kids playgrounds.
Stones can do good to crops that thrive well in warm climates because they keep the soil warm. Because they are heavy to carry around, stones are used for permanent crops where regular cultivation is not needed. A leaf blower is used in such conditions to prevent build-up of litter.
Newspapers are cheap and can be easily found for mulching. They help in weed control when 2-4 layers are used. They however decompose after some time and may need replacement. Newspapers should be covered with organic substances like sawdust to hold them in place.
Remember that there is a wide variety of garden mulch options, both organic and inorganic materials and each with its pros and cons. Your choice of best mulch should be done after careful considerations on the type of soil, weather conditions, the crop requirements and cost besides personal preferences.
If you’re looking to add mulch to your vegetable garden, check these tips from Dee McKenna from Nutrients for Life.