Your Complete Guide To Mulching
A mulch is usually organic matter, it could be compost, manure, pine bark, grass cutting or even spent hops if you live near a brewery. Newspaper can also be used as a mulch as can, for example, slate, gravel and other aggregates.
Mulching is when you spread a layer of material over the surface of your soil for one of a variety of reasons, most notably weed control, soil conditioning and moisture retention. In addition, mulches deter pests and protect plant roots. They can also be used purely decoratively.
The most effective medium for weed control is bark or wood chippings. Bark from sustainable sources is available in bulk and can be distributed on flower beds and borders around plants, trees and shrubs. A layer 3ins deep should control both annual and perennial weeds. Long lasting, one application will be enough for several years.
Soil conditioning is a major reason for mulching. When drawn into the soil it will increase the water retention qualities of light soils and open up heavy types and for organic gardeners it is an essential method of keeping soil at its most productive.
A 2in – 3in mulch in the spring with well rotted manure or compost, perhaps made in your own composter, helps to prevent moisture evaporation, controls weeds, and will add nutrients. Capping, i.e. the formation of a surface crust that prevents rain entering the soil, will also be discouraged.
If the appropriate amount of mulch is incorporated into the soil, enough nutrients will be added so that there is no requirement for commercial fertilizers, but different mulches will add nutrients in varying quantities.
Seaweed is good for trace elements, mushroom compost is slightly alkaline so not useful for alkaline plants, pine bark is a good moisture retainer but has near enough no nutrients and can cause nitrogen deficiency if dug into the soil.
Grass cuttings are good for weed suppression, but the depth (about 6ins) required can cause them to become a slimy mess. Avoid direct contact with tree or shrub stems, use good quality material to lessen the chance of pests and diseases and if you see white fungus developing in the soil, don’t worry it’s harmless.
Mulching doesn’t produce many, if any, problems when applied correctly. It's an excellent method of getting the most out the soil and increasing its productivity. Best applied in moist conditions in the spring and autumn, mulches can be used around particular plants or to cover entire beds to considerable and lasting effect.