Occasionally I hit a milestone when it comes to gardening – I discover a trick that improves my garden so much that it completely changes how I do things. Mulching my garden was one of those milestones for me. I want to share with your how to mulch your garden and why you should.
Why Should You Mulch Your Garden?
Have you ever walked through a forest and looked around? You’ll find big, lush trees growing everywhere. You won’t find anyone standing out there with a hose watering each tree, or a sprinkler system with a timer going off each day at 6 am. So what gives? How is there a forest of living plants without human intervention?
Enter the forest floor.
The forest floor plays such a vital part of the forest ecosystem. That ground covering acts as a layer of protection for the soil. It allows moisture to be retained, controls ground temperatures, and adds organic material back into the soil similar to compost. And that’s pretty much what we’re mirroring when we add mulch to our gardens. We’re adding a ground covering that helps with so much.
Mulch materials can help retain water by reducing the amount of water that evaporates from the soil. It also keeps your soil temperatures cool, reducing the stress your plants can feel during high temperatures, similar to how shade cloths help. Mulching really helps in warmer climates (like Florida) to keeps the soil moist and cool.
Mulch also allows you to control weeds naturally (as long as you have a couple of inches of mulch). A layer of mulch can prevent weed seeds from germinating. It doesn’t eliminate weeds, but if you’ve been gardening for any amount of time you’ll notice the difference in the quantity. Mulch will also add nutrients back into the soil when it decomposes over time.
Types of Mulch
There are many types of organic mulch that you can use for your garden. Organic mulch will decompose and need to be replaced over time, but in the process, it will also improve your soil’s fertility with its organic content. Below are a few types of mulches that you can use for your garden.
Using woods chips as mulch is the mulching style recommended with the Back to Eden Method. Woods chips in this context are freshly cut pieces of wood. There are many places that you can get wood chips from for free. The ChipDrop app is a way of connecting arborists who want to get rid of their woodchips to gardeners who can use it as mulch. And they’ll deliver it to your house.
I personally use straw and have loved it. Straw is the gold stalk of cereal grains such as wheat and oats. It’s typically used for animal bedding, but the lightweight aspect of it that animals like will also benefit your garden. The brand I use is EZ-Straw and it goes a long way. I’ve been impressed by it.
If you use straw, make sure it’s straw and not hay. Straw should be seed free, though there is a minimal amount of seeds that come with it. I’ve heard concerns from people about using straw because it can cause additional weeds. My experience has shown this number is limited, and only during the first few weeks of laying down the straw, and it suppresses the number of weeds I would typically get in my garden.
If you have a large tree in your yard that drops leaves, after your rake your leaves don’t bag them up for the trash. Instead, you can use those leaves to mulch your garden. This organic matter will act as a layer of protection for your garden and decompose over time. It’s lightweight and cheap since you’ll be using organic matter that you already have. This is an especially useful ground cover during the fall as trees begin to lose their leaves.
Prebagged mulch that you can get at your local nursery typically includes shredded pieces of wood or bark. While this can work there are 2 elements that you will want to consider. First is the size of the pieces – large pieces can interfere with seeds germinating and small plants. It will either need to be brushed away from the plants as they begin to grow, or smaller pieces will need to be used. The second element you’ll want to take into consideration is if the mulch has been pretreated. Treated wood can have synthetic chemicals that you might not want leaching into your garden, especially if you’re growing an organic garden.
Locally here in Florida I’ve used FloriMulch and find it to be pretty good. I use this around my garden beds where I plant my flowers. The pieces are fairly small and it’s untreated, but I still prefer to use straw in my vegetable and berry raised garden beds. Prebagged mulch is good around trees, shrubs, and flowers that you won’t be digging around frequently.
Final Thoughts on Mulching
Keep in mind that when mulching to prevent weeds, you’ll want to pull any weeds in your garden bed before laying down the mulch or they’ll continue to grow through. You’ll also want to be mindful of the nitrogen in your soil. When mulch decomposes it can leach nitrogen out of your soil, requiring nitrogen to be added back to your soil. You can tell if your soil is starting to become depleted if the leaves of your plants start to turn yellow. Adding nitrogen will make your plants green again in a couple of weeks. You can do this with blood meal or other organic fertilizers.
Do you add mulch to your garden? Comment below!