Mulching has many great benefits for your garden, from aesthetics to practical points. So here are some of the advantages of mulching…
Firstly, it can add the finishing touch to your borders, giving a real professional finish and tidy look. Lots of mulches can be used for landscaping in other areas of your garden too. For example, bark chippings are a great cheap alternative to a stone path.
It’s not just about looks, because mulching can add nutrients to your soil as it breaks down.
In addition, it helps the soil to retain moisture which stops it from drying out in the summer. Whilst in winter it adds warmth which protects roots from winter frosts. This is especially useful if your garden is full of tender perennials which struggle through the British winter.
Furthermore, mulching can save us a lot of back-breaking weeding. Since most weeds need light to grow, any layer thick enough to stop light getting in with prevent most of them from being able to grow.
Most mulch materials are biodegradable, such as compost or bark chippings. These are great because they break down naturally and slowly improve your soil whilst adding nutrients.
Firstly, garden compost is a great organic mulch. Compost or well-rotted manure will look very natural in your borders. It will also help to suppress new weeds from sprouting up.
Also, 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
Secondly, bark and wood chippings are popular mulch material because they look really attractive in borders.
My favourite type is composted bark 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 know a friendly 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.
To make leaf mould, simply collect up the fallen leaves in autumn in your garden and place them all in a hessian bag so that moisture can get in. Once you’ve done this, leave the bag behind your shed or garage and leave it for around a year and you’ll have a free and eco-friendly mulch.
This is a great biodegradable option if you are growing strawberries. This is because the scratchy surface of the straw deters slugs and keeps your fruit away from the mud when it rains.
Also, sometimes it can be 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 suppressing 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 seashells 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. With this in mind, 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.
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? You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes to your garden!
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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