Last Updated on February 14, 2021 by Matt Gardener
If you don’t know what is mulching and its advantages, then bring your seat closer as we’re going to unveil to you everything you need to know about mulching today.
You’ll get to know what mulching means, types of mulching, as well as its advantages and disadvantages, and every other thing you need to know.
Without wasting much of your time, let’s quickly get started:
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Table of Contents
- What is Mulching and Its Advantages?
- Types of Organic Mulch
- Grass Clippings
- Shredded Leaves
- Straw and Hay
- Synthetic and Inorganic Mulches
- Gravel and Stone
- Plastic and Landscape Fabric
- Advantages of Mulching
- Preserves soil moisture
- Offers an insulation layer
- Prevents water runoff and erosion
- Improve the soil’s fertility and physical structure
- Minimizes root competition
- Potential Disadvantages of Mulching
What is Mulching and Its Advantages?
Mulch is typically any material that is laid or spread over the soil surface as a covering. It is used to discourage weed growth, retain moisture in the soil, keep the soil cool, and boost the attractiveness of the garden bed.
Furthermore, organic mulches equally help to enhance the soil’s fertility, as they decay. Mulch comes in different types, and they include:
Types of Organic Mulch
- Bark, Shredded or Chipped
- Grass Clippings
- Composted Manure
- Shredded Leaves
Organic mulch will rot and have to be replaced, but will equally improve your soil’s fertility and its organic content in the process. The woodier and dryer the mulch, the slower it will decay, and the fewer nutrients it will supply to the soil.
It’s essential to know the origin of compost, straw, and manure since these materials can contain feasible weed seeds. You don’t want to spread a mulch that will start sprouting and creating more work for you.
That said, each type of organic mulch has its use; below is a breakdown of the various types of mulch:
You can use compost and composted manure anywhere, provided they are somewhat well composted and weed-free.
They can be used as mulch coating or simply to side-dress plants during the growing period to insulate and provide a boost of slowly released nutrients.
Compost can be made by mixing grass clippings, food scraps, and other organic materials in specialized tumblers or bins.
It may also interest you to know that composting can minimize your family’s landfill waste by up to 30%.
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Bark mulches are the best mulch for trees and shrubs, as well as garden beds where you won’t be doing lots of digging, like foundation plantings and front walkways.
Sadly, these woody mulches do not mix properly into the soil and can become a problem to continue moving them aside to pave the way for new plants. However, they usually last longer than finer organic mulches.
Grass Clippings are a mixed bag when it comes to mulching. They are suitable for remote areas of your garden where you plan to curb weeds.
Just like most green plant debris with high water content, grass clippings decay very fast, and in the process, they can get relatively slimy, with a horrible odor. So we’d advise you to use it with discretion. Grass clippings equally tend to mat down and prevent water from passing through.
Preferably, use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on your lawn in order to add fertility to the soil. But if you happen to bag your grass clippings, don’t discard them except you have used weed killer or some other pesticide or herbicide on your lawn.
Furthermore, artificial lawn care products can be detrimental to some flowers, and they shouldn’t be used in your vegetable garden. Untreated grass clippings can either be used to mulch open, unplanted areas or dumped into your compost bin.
These are nature’s favorite mulch. You can use Shredded Leaves as mulch anywhere, and they are also free, which is indeed a bonus. You will equally use them to lure more earthworms to your garden soil.
Some gardeners dislike the look of leaves in their garden, and they are perhaps not suitable for a formal setting. If a layer is spread in the spring before the plants spread out, the leaf mulch often tends to blend into the view after a short time.
Shredded leaves are ideal for woodland gardens, and if a layer is spread over your vegetable garden in the fall, it will start to decompose over the winter.
That said, unshredded leaves can tangle together and deter water in rainy areas. If that occurs, you can always rake and fluff them up a little if they appear to get trapped.
People are beginning to use newspaper as mulch – and this is becoming more and more popular over time. Most newspapers have changed to organic dyes, especially for their black and white sections.
Over the years, people have used shredded newspaper to keep plant roots moist while shipping. Additionally, layered sheets of newspaper have excellent moisture retention power. They act like other organic mulches as far as controlling soil temperatures and preventing weeds are concerned.
Aside from that, they are equally suitable for smothering existing grass, to kick-start a new garden bed.
To use Newspaper as a mulch in your garden spread a layer of 4-8 sheets of newspaper around the plants. Remember to moisten the sheets in order to keep them in place.
It’s easier to moisten the sheets on windy days before placing them down. Then cover the newspaper with a 1-3 inch layer of another organic mulch. The weed protection will be able to last throughout the growing season.
Straw and Hay
Straw and salt hay are among the most popular mulches for a vegetable garden. They help to make paths less muddy and to prevent the soil as well as soil-borne diseases from splashing up on lower plant leaves.
Straw is usually very slow in decaying and will last the entire growing season. That’s not all; straw equally makes an excellent home for spiders and other helpful insects that will move in and help restrict pest population.
Finally, it’s pretty easy to either work into or rake up the soil when it’s time to put the vegetable garden to bed or plant a new crop.
Synthetic and Inorganic Mulches
Below are examples of synthetic and inorganic mulches:
- Black Plastic
- Landscape Fabric
Synthetic and inorganic mulches do a great job of blocking weeds and holding moisture. They do not add fertility to the soil; however, they don’t decay, and you’re not required to replace them as often as organic mulches.
Uses of Inorganic and Synthetic Mulches
If you love the functionality of landscape fabric or plastic but dislike the look, you can always add some layer of bark mulch on top of the fabric or plastic for camouflage. As the bark rots, weed seeds can take hold on top of the fabric or plastic.
Furthermore, the bark will need to be replaced as it disintegrates. But if you’re building raised beds, then consider making them the width of your fabric or plastic. This will enable you to cover the bed without seams.
Gravel and Stone
Stone and gravel perform well as mulches in areas that need good drainage or beds with plants that like small extra heat, like rain gardens and Mediterranean herb gardens.
Stone is difficult to remove, so you’ll want to give it some thought before using gravel or stone as a mulch.
Plastic and Landscape Fabric
Plastic and landscape fabric are the perfect choices to be used around foundation plantings and other trees and shrubs.
These plants do not need constant fertilization and, for the best part, you won’t be regularly working in these beds. Therefore, there will be no need to worry about weeding them throughout the summer.
Also, plastic gets really hot in the summer, and, apart from smothering weed seeds, it can equally kill all the beneficial things in the soil, including plant roots, except there is adequate moisture. Ensure to create holes in the fabric so sufficient water can pass through.
If you notice puddles accumulating on top of the fabric or plastic, then you don’t have sufficient drainage. Landscape fabric is porous and should not be an issue unless it gets blocked.
Advantages of Mulching
Now that we’ve discussed what mulching is and the different types of mulches let’s now talk about the advantages of mulching and its disadvantages.
Preserves soil moisture
Uncovered soil surfaces tend to heat-up in summer, leading to water evaporation and sometimes root dryness and death. A layer of mulch helps to reduce the loss of moisture by preventing sunlight from getting to and heating the soil.
Mulch equally helps to protect the soil moisture from evaporation by the wind. Besides, less watering is needed during high summer temperatures.
Offers an insulation layer
Mulched soils are cooler in summer and warmer in winter than naked soils. Mulching protects plant roots from extreme temperatures, creating less freezing and melting of the soil in winter, which can heave and harm plants.
Prevents water runoff and erosion
Uncovered soil breaks apart when impacted by sprinkler droplets or rain. With mulch, the soil is protected from being eroded, and water runoff is reduced by providing a sponge surface that soaks up water and slows it down.
Improve the soil’s fertility and physical structure
Mulch adds humus to the soil as it breaks down, boosting organic matter in the surface of heavy clay soils and enhances the water holding capacity of sandy soils, light, and slowly releasing phosphorous and nitrogen into the soil.
Minimizes root competition
In the Midwest, the majority of a tree’s fine roots are in the upper 12-18 inches of the soil. Therefore, applying mulch under trees and shrubs helps to abolish competition from other plants for nutrients and water.
Turf roots are notably aggressive and pose the biggest threat of competition to shrubs and trees. You can create a living mulch with the use of plants that are more compatible with tree roots: ground covers, wildflowers, bulbs, ferns, and other herbaceous perennials.
Other benefits of mulch include:
- Recycles landscape/yard waste
- Protection from lawnmower damage
- Creates a favorable environment for earthworms and other organisms that are beneficial to soil fertility and structure
- Provides a more natural look of the landscape
Potential Disadvantages of Mulching
There may be problems if you misuse mulch. Too much of it can be detrimental. You want to consider the following points to avoid problems and make an informed choice:
Excess moisture: Fine-textured mulch, like peat moss, sawdust, and grass clippings holds lots of moisture and should only be used in mixtures with other coarser mulch materials.
Creates a barrier to water and oxygen: Weed barriers or plastic mulch prevent oxygen and water from passing through the soil and should not be used except they are porous.
Root collar rot: Excess mulch mounded around a tree base can result in decay of the essential tissue at the root collar. Once decomposed, dangerous disease organisms may quickly enter the plant.
Heat injury: Dark-colored mulches are known to absorb heat in the day time and lose heat at night as the surrounding air temperatures fall. Sometimes, this heat may hurt succulent plant tissue.
Weed seeds: Some types of organic mulch, such as hay, manure, straw, and some leaf litter mold may hide weed seeds and should be composted or else appropriately treated before use, so that weed seeds are abolished.
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Soil temperatures: If you want to apply mulch as winter protection, you’ll want to avoid applying it too early in the fall. This is because mulch can decompose the soil freezing process by retaining heat in the soil.
Additionally, if you apply it too early in the spring, mulch can also slow soil warming and delay root growth. As a general rule of thumb: Wait until after the last frost in spring before applying summer mulch, and after a hard frost in the fall before applying winter mulch.
Watch the short video below to learn more about mulching:
We hope you have now gotten the answers to the question: What is mulching and its advantages.
Whichever mulch you decide to use depends on the functionalities and aesthetic you want. More and more choices come up each year, so it’s essential to review your options before you start spreading.
Overall, you want to opt for a mulch that will please you and aid your yard and garden for many years.