Maxicrop’s guide to Mulching
Mulches are materials that are placed over the soil’s surface to trap in moisture and improve the soil’s overall conditions. Mulching is one of the best and most beneficial techniques of keeping plants and trees healthy as it reduces water loss from the soil, minimizes weeds, and improve the soil’s overall structure.
However, if not done properly, for instance if the mulch is too deep or is made of the wrong materials, it will have the opposite effect, causing significant damage, so it is vital to know your mulch! That’s why Maxicrop have put together a guide to mulching, to help gardeners get to terms with one of the best but often tricky gardening techniques.
Benefits of Mulching
· Helps soil retain moisture by reducing evaporation, hence the need for watering is minimized.
· Helps control weeds in the garden by creating less than ideal conditions for germination and growth for weeds.
· Serves as nature’s insulating blanket. It helps keep soil temperature up in winter, and reduces it in summer.
· Various types of mulch improve soil aeration, structure and drainage over time.
· Some types of mulch improve soil fertility.
· A layer of mulch can prevent certain plant diseases from plaguing your garden.
· Mulching around trees helps facilitate maintenance and can reduce the likelihood of damage from “weed whackers” or the dreaded “lawn mower blight.”
· Mulch can give plant beds a well-cared-for look.
A plant bed with mulch can look attractive and cared for
Types of Mulch
You can buy prepacked mulches in many forms from local garden centres. The two main types you will come across are inorganic and organic. Inorganic includes various types of stone, lava rock, pulverized rubber, geo-textile fabrics, and other materials. The upside to this type of mulch will not need to be replaced often as it does not decompose. The downside is it won’t improve soil structure, add organic materials, or provide nutrients because it doesn’t decompose. For these reasons, most gardeners opt for organic mulches.
Organic include wood chips, pine needles, hardwood and softwood bark, cocoa hulls, leaves, compost mixes, and a variety of other products usually from plants. The upside to this type of mulch is it will add nutrients and organic materials, as well as improving soil structure as it decomposes. The downside is that as most decompose fairly fast, the need for maintenance is increased.
Not Too Much!
Although mulch has highly beneficial factors, you can always have too much of a good thing. Too much mulch could do serious harm, so the general recommended depth of mulch is 2 to 4 inches. Only replenish as the mulch decomposes, and never venture outside these depth limits.
Problems Associated with Improper Mulching
· Deep mulch can cause excess moisture to pool around the roots, giving plants and trees root rot.
· Piling too much mulch around stems and trunks can traumatise stem tissues and lead to disease.
· Use of mulches containing cut grass or similar materials over a long period of time can affect soil pH and lead to micronutrient deficiencies or toxicities.
· Thick blankets of fine mulch can become matted and may prevent the penetration of water and air. In addition, a thick layer of fine mulch can become like potting soil and may support weed growth.
· Anaerobic “sour” mulch is likely to give off nasty odours and the alcohols and organic acids that build up may be toxic to young plants.
Mulch gives plants and trees essential nutrients and locks in moisture
How To Practice ‘Proper’ Mulching
So we have now established that the type of mulch and the method of application have an important effect on the health of landscape plants. The following are some guidelines to use when applying mulch:
· Inspect plants and soil in the area to be mulched. Determine whether drainage is adequate. Determine whether there are plants that may be affected by the choice of mulch. Most commonly available mulches work well in most landscapes. Some plants may benefit from the use of slightly acidifying mulch such as pine bark.
· If mulch is already present, check the depth. Do not add mulch if there is a sufficient layer in place. Rake the old mulch to break up any matted layers and to refresh the appearance. Some landscape maintenance companies spray mulch with a water-soluble, vegetable-based dye to improve the appearance.
· If mulch is piled against the stems or tree trunks, pull it back several inches so that the base of the trunk and the root crown are exposed.
· Organic mulches usually are preferred to inorganic materials due to their soil-enhancing properties. If organic mulch is used, it should be well aerated and, preferably, composted. Avoid sour-smelling mulch.
· Composted wood chips can make good mulch, especially when they contain a blend of leaves, bark, and wood. Fresh wood chips also may be used around established trees and shrubs. Avoid using non-composted wood chips that have been piled deeply without exposure to oxygen.
· For well-drained sites, apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch. If there are drainage problems, a thinner layer should be used. Avoid placing mulch against the tree trunks. Place mulch out to the tree’s drip line or beyond.