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Why should I use mulch?

Updated on April 5, 2011

Mulch is a gardener’s best friend, preventing weed growth in your organic garden while also providing plenty of nutrients to the soil, keeping the garden moist in hot weather, and also slowly improving soil quality. People often believe that you need to dig soil improver in for it to work. But a mulch will be brought into the soil by earth worms, so simply by regular application of mulch you will do most of the work.

If you look at a forest, the leaves naturally form a thick layer, which rots down slowly giving nutrients. Mulch is the human equivalent to this process.

Flower bed with bark mulch
Flower bed with bark mulch

When should you use a mulch?

There are two main circumstances:

1.You should use a mulch in vegetable and flower beds to prevent weeds

If you go to most gardens, you will find many have a thin layer of compost. Once you weed an area, placing compost mulch down will help prevent weeds, as well as making the garden look better.

2 Prevent Empty ground

You should use either a green or manure mulch on empty ground to prevent nutrients leaking and weeds from growing and spoiling all your hard work. Mulch is a perfect system for weed control.

Which mulch to choose?

The mulches that are most common are:

  1. Wood chippings / bark chippings
  2. Compost
  3. Leaf Mould
  4. Manure
  5. Grass
  6. Seaweed

The choice between different mulches is more complex than you might think. When you look at the soil what do you see? If a soil is particularly badly draining because it is very heavy clay, you need something that will add more soil structure to the garden. So, the best option is leaf mould. This adds structure without adding many nutrients – which is perfect for clay which is actually a very nutritious soil.

If you are growing your own vegetables, garden mulch is a great way to reduce your work load. Once you have dug over a vegetable patch and want to leave it over the winter, a manure mulch is a great choice. The manure will break down over winter, and protect the topsoil too. You then dig it in during spring, just before you plant. You don’t use a manure mulch on ground that has plants because it can scorch the plant.

With a sandy soil, you will want to use compost mulch, because it will add nutrients to the soil. Alternatively, it used to be the practice of using seaweed mulch, which does work very well too. Although it is harder to obtain than it used to be.

Bark Mulches are typically used in any garden where there are large weed problems, and where the gardener wants to use organic weed control. It rots down very slowly, adding both structure and nutrients to the soil. An ideal but expensive choice.

Grass mulches are great in the right situation. They are very cheap, and will also keep down weeds very well. Plus, it is full of nutrients. However, you would not want to use such a mulch on flower or vegetable beds. Grass gives a place for snails and slugs to hide from birds. So, most people use grass mulch under hedge plants in order to suppress weeds.

Clover mulch as a green mulch
Clover mulch as a green mulch

Green Mulches

If you have dug over the vegetable garden, and have a patch of empty soil, you find it allows weeds to grow and also the nutrients in the soil leak out. A great technique is to sow a temporary crop that will improve the soil. Then, when you intend to use the plot, you dig in the green mulch and this adds nutrients into the soil.

I’ll write another article on how to select the right Green Mulch in the future.

Basic technique for using mulch

In essence, the main thing you need to do is make sure that the so under the mulch is as weed free as possible. So, clear the bed, paying special attention to perennial weeds. This can be a slow process.

Once you have cleared the weeds, it is often recommended that if you live in a dry area you water the bed very thoroughly. The soil should be at least damp to the touch. This is because it will take longer than the plants are used to for water to percolate down to the roots, so this extra step will make sure the plant can thrive.

The next step is to carefully put between half and a full inch of mulch round the plants, making sure you don’t cover their leaves.

You can read my blog on gardening by clicking on hardy perennial Or my booklet on How to Grow Carrots which is available on kindle.


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  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

    Good guide on using mulch. Thanks much.