'Mulching' is something that gardeners often mention at this time of year. But what is it? and what are its benefits?
Mulching is very simply, loose material added to the surface of the soil. It could be organic such as compost or woodchip or inorganic such as plastic sheeting or rocks. People mulch their soil for various reasons from regulating the soils temperatures to preventing weeds. However, the main reason gardeners mulch is to improve and enrich their soil enabling them to grow healthy plants and enhance their yields of crops.
Mulching a raised bed with home made compost.
Why should we mulch our garden soils?
Mulching helps your soil retain warmth. The soil will be more of a constant temperature in mulched areas giving you happier seedlings and plants. Extreme temperature changes, especially in Spring, can be detrimental to new growth.
Mulching enriches your soil. Over the course of a year in the cutting or kitchen garden, the soil is depleted of nutrients. Your crops have used up many of the nutrients in the soil so it's imperative that you replace these nutrients. Adding organic mulch to your beds not only replenishes nutrients it also increases worm and other soil organisms activity which helps to aerate your soil.
Mulching will help protect from soil erosion from heavy rain, storms and wind.
Mulching can suppress weeds.
Mulching will protect some crops such as strawberries from spoiling if left on the ground.
Mulching can deter some garden creatures that may eat your crops. For example, adding egg shells to your lupins may deter snails.
Mulch helps retain moisture which is particularly needed during very hot summers.
Be careful what you use to mulch your soil as it could contain weed seeds or pieces of unrotted ivy or other unwanted plants.
Just check that your mulch doesn't harbour any creatures that may be considered pests to your crops, such as slugs.
Adding lots of woodchip to paths may cause the soil PH to change. As it rots down, it can take up nitrogen away from your plants. It is also bulky and can stop water getting to any plant roots. Personally, I have added woodchip or bark to my paths here in the past but I have started to add it to my compost instead where it can rot down naturally.
Watch that manure is partially rotted down before adding it to your beds. This is because it can leach nitrogen from your plants or start to decompose anaerobically. It could become acidic and may burn your plants or seedlings. If you do not know where your manure is from and what the animals have been eating, you may introduce a pathogen or chemicals to your garden. Personally, I add any manure to my compost bins to allow it to rot down before I add it to my beds.
Adding mulch can be hard and dirty work! Personally I enjoy this job as it means I am caring for my garden and helping to create a more productive space. I recommend wearing gloves which shovelling compost and always wash your hands when handling manure or organic materials.
When to mulch?
Living in the UK, I tend to mulch my whole garden throughout the year. This makes things more manageable for me! We make enough home made compost to mulch the entire garden but in two batches. I mulch half the garden with the first batch in October; this tends to be the empty raised cut flower beds and the perennials. The other half I use to mulch the roses, other raised beds and remaining perennials in March. Many gardeners will mulch at different times to suit them and their plots but Autumn and Spring seem to be the best time.
Do you mulch your garden?
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