Whether it is used in the orchard, vegetable garden or simply in your planters, mulching is an effective and natural way to protect your plants and enrich your soil. It works, for example, as a barrier in case of temperature change, preserves the ground’s moisture and even prevents the invasion of weeds. Wood chips, pine bark and grass are all materials that can be used to achieve it.

Mulching is a technique that involves covering the ground surface with a layer of materials called mulch. By using healthy products from biodegradable waste, mulching constitutes an alternative to the use of chemicals that pollute the environment. The mulch protects and nourishes the soil. It can be used for all gardening work such as tasks carried out in the orchard, vegetable garden, around trees and shrubs, at the base of hedges or for potted plants.

What are the materials used to make mulch?

To make mulch, use biodegradable waste. These are mainly garden waste: cultivation debris, grass clippings and the compost’s remains. Trees also generate waste, such as bark and dead leaves, which can also be used in the making of mulch.

If you prefer ready-for-use mulch, you can purchase plant material, such as cocoa shells or flax straw, in stores. Besides these plant mulch, you can also find some made from mineral material such as sand, gravel and pebbles.They offer the advantage of being simultaneously a form of protection and decorative elements, as illustrated by clay beads.

There also are artificial mulches made from materials such as woven fibre felts or horticultural black plastic. These plastic mulches are used in large plastic sheets to cover the ground. They are typically used for large-scale commercial production. However, organic mulch is the most recommended type of protection for your garden because it allows for the development of micro-organisms while enriching the soil with nutrients.

Some useful recommendations for your mulch

It is advisable to mulch from the end of April, making sure that the covered ground has been previously warmed, is weeded and moist. In case your garden is easily invaded by weeds, laying mulch in early February allows for preventive treatment.

Cover plants with rapid growth may act as mulch if they are sown with the main crop. For small-size market gardening and home gardens, organic mulch is spread by hand around each plant. Materials such as straw and hay can be previously ground to facilitate their use. The soil should be sufficiently covered to prevent the penetration of light with an average thickness of 4 to 6 inches(10 to 15 centimetres).

Warning: mulches, because of their moisture and freshness, can provide shelter to some small predatory animals such as slugs and snails. Harmful to plants, one must be vigilant to prevent them from invading the garden. On the other hand, mulch made from pine needles or thujas is not recommended because it is readily biodegradable. And, finally, the use of lightweight materials, such as leaf layers, must be combined with potting soil for the layer not to be blown away by the wind.

The benefits of mulching

Setting up a mulch can reduce the watering frequency and the evaporation of water contained in soil. By absorbing water, mulch preserves soil moisture. Organic mulch helps improve soil structure by breaking down humus which increases the ground’s fertility.

In addition, by keeping the temperature, the concentration of organic materials and the soil moisture at constant levels, mulching helps to foster micro-organism life necessary for breaking down essential nutrients. The use of mulch also helps to improve plant growth while preserving them for parasites. For vegetables and fruits, mulch helps to keep them in a clean condition because they are not in direct contact with the ground. Protective layers of which the thickness ranges from 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimetres) are, on the other hand, a very effective barrier against temperature variations.

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Published in Garden maintenance by Alexander on 06 Jul 2011