One of the most important part of gardening is mulching. It keeps down weeds by blocking the light that allows weeds to germinate. Mulch will slow down the evaporation of moisture from the soil, which also will keep the soil from drying out and creating a crusty soil.
Earthworms love organic mulch, they eat the organic matter and produce castings. When they move around in the soil the tunnels they make aerates the soil and improves the texture. Other organisms do the same. All the work they do makes a nutrient-rich substance that our plants need.
This process is actually decomposition, which adds valuable organic humus to the soil.
Simple steps to mulching:
1. Distribute the mulch material to a depth of at least 3 to 5 inches. The more coarse the material, the more you add.
2. Place the mulch between and around the plants, but allow the immediate area around the base of the stems of annuals and perennials to be free of it.
3. Moisten the mulch.
When mulching trees and shrubs, keep the mulch approximately 5 – 10 inches from the base of the tree. Over time mulch on trunks, even with organic matter too close to the trunk of the plant, will cause many problems down the road.
The wood mulch keeps the soil cool and maintains an even soil temperature. If bark chips and sawdust are used they may delete nitrogen from the soil when they decompose, so add some nitrogen to the soil first before and then after laying down such mulches.
Look at organic wastes like shredded tree barks or light pruning, seasoned sawdust, wood shavings, peanut shells, cocoa bean hulls, rice husks, ground corn cobs, grass clippings, unused vegetable waste and seaweed.
Black Plastic Sheets
If organic methods are not your style then take a look at black plastic sheets that are used for mulching the soil. It affords excellent weed control and moisture conservation, if done properly.
Lay the plastic mulch on top of the soil or beds beforehand, then cut x-shaped slits in the plastic and then just fold back underneath the flaps to plant. When performing this method make sure not to completely fill the hole in the plastic with the plant even when mature.
Place holes or slits on the sides around the plastic to allow the passage of water and air for the benefit of the roots. The extra slits are crucial when using plastic to allow excess moisture to drain and prevent water-logging, which can happen on wet days.
When we speak of mulching we often mean using a layer of organic material on the surface of the soil, from dried lawn clippings to strips of newspapers. As time goes by this organic material decomposes because of the various agents present in the soil and will yield the all-important humus matter.
If you plan on using animal manure, which is a nutrient-rich mulch, it should be combined with other material like lawn clippings or straw. Make sure this mixture is well rotted and then it will provide much needed nitrogen to the soil.
Compost mixed with a rough mulch (called living mulch) is an excellent pick for mulching your soil or beds. Compost is the best form of mulch.
Mulch-mowing is a simple method of using fallen leaves. A good sharp mulch blade on a lawn mower will be the best mulcher you can find. It will cut the grass blades and leaves into tiny pieces and at the same time, using the shredded leaves, produce a rougher textured mulch to cover the soil.
Use this method every week to get the maximum benefit of the mulch on the ground. This will keep the chore easier to handle every week and provide a fresh supply of mulch to start decomposing and forming new organic matter to feed the soil and keep moisture.
With mulch-mowing it keeps fewer leaves on the street that clog the drain system and from causing other hazards for the community.
Whatever you do, mulch is a critical part of gardening and lawn maintenance. You never know when there will be a lack of rain or too much of it, a freeze comes along, lack of nutrients needed for the plant. If you mulch properly then you are prepared for the unexpected. Back to the basics.