When it comes to caring for your garden, mulch can be as important to plant health as soil and water. Mulching provides plenty of benefits, both functionally and aesthetically, but is often an overlooked part of our gardening routine. We’re here to help you understand the importance of mulching, and how to choose the right mulch for your garden!
IMPORTANCE OF MULCHING IN DRY AREAS
During the dry summer heat, soil loses moisture much quicker than in the cool, wet seasons. As water evaporates into the air almost as quickly as we spray it from the hose, keeping up with our garden’s water needs at this time can be exhausting. Not to mention, the high volume of water we use isn’t good for the environment, or our water bill!
One of the biggest advantages of mulch is its ability to retain moisture. Apply an even layer of mulch around your plant to protect its roots from the scorching sun, and you’ll instantly notice a difference in your water usage! As the mulch shades the soil from the sun’s UV rays, it also keeps out pesky weeds that need the sunlight to spread.
TIPS FOR MULCHING A GARDEN
Before you get overexcited and start throwing mulch around the garden, it’s important to learn the proper technique! Get the biggest benefits from mulch by following a few of our simple tips:
Apply mulch twice a year. In the spring, mulch helps to protect your plants from the upcoming hot season by retaining moisture and protecting soil from the scorching sun. By the time fall comes around, a lot of this mulch has likely wandered away or decomposed. Apply a second layer of mulch in the fall after the ground freezes to insulate your garden for the winter.
Avoid overapplication. While spreading it thin might make it less effective, spreading mulch too thick can also be damaging. Overapplying mulch leads to shallow-growing roots that won’t be able to withstand dry spells very well.
Don’t smother your plant. Always leave a couple of inch diameter around your plant mulch-free. Never mound the material around your a stem or tree trunk, as it can lead to rot and disease. The bark and roots need to be able to breathe.
MULCH VS. STONE
Traditional mulch is composed of a variety of materials, including grass clippings, leaves, woodchips, shredded bark, and other organic matter. Not only does this type of mulch shelter soil from the sun, but it also provides bountiful nutrients and healthy bacteria that enrich your garden.
Despite the many benefits of natural mulch, some gardeners opt for stone mulch instead. We’ll admit, stone mulch does add a certain decorative element to your garden - but it doesn’t nourish the soil. While stone mulch effectively shades soil from the sun, it also heats up very easily, drying out the soil quicker. Stone mulch is great for aesthetic appeal, but it doesn’t serve the same purpose as regular mulch and is much more expensive. If you’re still drawn to the look of stones, you can add some decorative ones throughout your garden without forfeiting the benefits of regular mulch!
TYPES OF MULCH
If you’ve decided that mulching is right for your garden, your next step is to choose the appropriate kind. Not all mulches are the same - they can be made of a variety of different materials, both organic and synthetic. Consider what purpose the mulch will be serving - is it for moisture retention? Weed control? Aesthetics? Answering these questions will help you decide on a material that will make your garden healthy AND attractive! Here are some options to help you decide:
Bark Mulch: For an organic mulch that’s sure to lock in the moisture and keep out the sun and the weeds, bark shreds or nuggets are great options! Not only is bark mulch tried and true, but you can find it in a variety of woody colors, depending on what tree it came from. Since bark is a porous material, it easily decomposes, enriching your garden soil with valuable nutrients
Wood Chips: Like bark chips, wood chips are great at blocking out the sun and keeping the soil cool. While untreated woodchips have a more natural appearance, treated ones might be more appealing to those going for a tidier aesthetic. Treated wood chips are dyed to have a more uniform color. To avoid introducing harmful chemicals to your garden soil, find wood chips that have been treated with an all-natural dye, or opt for untreated instead.
Straw: While it might not be the prettiest option for formal gardens, straw mulch is perfect for a charming country touch. It’s great for vegetable gardens, where it tends to get mixed around with the soil a little bit more. Straw mulch is also great at protecting young seedlings for the winter. Just keep in mind that some varieties may contain seeds that end up sprouting up through the mulch. If you’re worried about unwanted plants, opt for guaranteed weed-free straw or choose a different kind of mulch.
There no denying the many benefits mulch provides to our gardens. Drop by our garden center today and we’ll help you choose one that’s right for you!