Mulching has lots of great benefits for your garden. It can tidy up your borders and give them a real professional finish.
It can add nutrients to your soil as it breaks down as well as helping it to retain moisture. This stops it from drying out in the summer and adds warmth over winter which protects roots from winter frost (which is really helpful if you like to grow more tender perennials that struggle with the British winter).
Mulching can also save us a lot of back-breaking weeding. Since most weed seeds need light to grow, any layer thick enough to exclude light will prevent most of them from beginning to grow, and will also kill any weed seedlings that do germinate.
So, here are a few good mulch materials, and the ways you can use them most effectively.
Lots of mulches can be used for landscaping in other areas of you garden, for example bark chippings as a cheap alternative to a stone path.
Most mulch materials are biodegradable, such as compost or bark chippings, and these are great because they break down naturally and slowly improve your soil whilst adding nutrients.
A great organic mulch, compost or well-rotted manure will look very natural in your borders and will still help to suppress new weeds from sprouting up.
The extra layer of insulation will help during cold snaps and the nutrients will be almost instantly available to your plants.
Bark and Wood Chippings
Bark and wood chippings are popular mulch material because they look really attractive in your borders. My favourite type is composted bark which has already started to rot down, because it looks more natural than pure bark chips.
Softwood chippings can look a bit garish when first laid, but they soon darken to a more natural tone. And if you have a friendly local timber merchant and you’re prepared to collect it yourself, it may cost very little.
Leaf Mould or Mushroom Compost
Another type of natural mulch that some people use is leaf mould or spent mushroom compost.
These are other examples of good biodegradable mulches, which will give your borders plenty of nutrients whilst also insulating over winter.
A great biodegradable option if you are growing strawberries, as the scratchy surface of the straw deters slugs and keeps your fruit away from the mud when it rains.
Also sometimes used on top of another mulch to really lock in moisture over winter.
Whilst non-biodegradable mulch options don’t add any nutritional benefits to your soil, they are much more decorative and are great for conserving moisture in the soil underneath. They may be the best option for supressing weeds too because weeds can’t germinate directly in them.
Gravel or Slate
Gravel and other stone chippings can create a very finished look to your flower beds. These look nice in smaller or front gardens, but won’t work so well underneath trees, as the gravel will trap falling debris and look untidy.
Make sure you are watering enough so that the moisture reaches the soil underneath.
Crushed Sea Shells or Rubber Mulch
As an alternative way to recycle old tyres or re-purpose some pretty holiday souvenirs, this will work best as a protective mulch on the surface of containers where it can easily be cleared away if you choose.
Rubber mulch is also often used underneath climbing frames or trampolines, to make a softer landing for kids in case they fall.
How to Mulch:
The best time to apply mulch is from mid spring to autumn, as the soil will be nice and warm during this time. Make sure you water your soil first if it is dry on top.
Weed control is helped by laying a few sheets of newspaper down before the mulch, or you can even lay a woven landscape fabric with slits cut in for planting, and the mulch laid over the top. This is great for weed control, but if you really want the nutritional benefits of the mulch for your soil, then leave this bit out.
Large perennial weeds need to be removed before mulching because they will work their way through. Dandelions and such will potentially blow in and sprout on top of certain mulches, but you can easily pull these out as the soil is loose.
If using bark chippings as mulch, make sure they are not fresh chippings, as these will suck all the nitrogen out of your soil.
Get whatever mulch material you have chosen and lay it over the entire surface of the bed, or on top of your newspaper or fabric, taking care not to smother young or low-growing plants. Also try to avoid the mulch coming into contact with the stems of trees or shrubs.
Your mulch layer should be about 4 inches thick, and bear in mind afterwards that you may need to water plants more than usual so that the moisture can penetrate through this thick layer.
Repeat this process once your mulch has completely rotted down, if using biodegradable mulch.
Mulching is a very simple process once you get the hang of it and can be extremely beneficial to your garden. Why not try a few different mulch materials to see what works best for you? Depending on whether you’re looking to landscape your garden for a eye-catching new look, or you simply want less hassle when it comes to weeding your borders, there’s a mulch to suit every need. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes to your garden!