Learn everything about mulches and mulching. Get tips on selecting, applying, and benefiting from mulch to enhance your garden’s health.

What is Mulch? 

What is Mulch

Mulch is a thick layer of material spread over soil or plants to suppress weeds and lock moisture in while acting as a physical barrier against drying winds and direct sun rays. Some mulches also contain nutrients which are released slowly as plant food for your crops. 

By breaking down composting processes into the soil through worm activity, this layer helps create a better moisture-retaining, free-draining soil structure for greater fertility and a more effective soil structure overall. Organic mulches also contain nutrients, providing gradual plant nutrition. Furthermore, as they break down they attract beetles, worms, and other soil invertebrates – providing food sources for birds.

Different Types and Uses for Mulch

There is an array of organic and inorganic mulches available for garden use that serve different functions in different gardens. 

1. Organic Mulches

Organic mulches consist of dead plant material like compost, leaves, bark, or grass clippings, while inorganic ones include rocks or gravel but can also include plastic sheeting, landscape fabric, and rubber mulch (which doesn’t break down over time), plastic sheeting (which disintegrates), landscape fabric, and rubber mulch (which disintegrates), among others, unlike organic ones, which break down over time). 

2. Inorganic Mulches

Inorganic mulches don’t add nutrients back into the soil while protecting other parts from reaching them; they provide long-term solutions against weed suppression more effectively than their counterparts can.

Organic Mulches:

Organic Mulches include:

Leaf Mould: 

Leaf mould is low in nutrients. It acts as an excellent soil conditioner. Provides a quick reward for a little effort. Simply bag up leaves in autumn and they should be ready to mulch around your plants after around 12 months.

Well-Rotted Horse Manure:

Suttons offer leaf mold sacks made from well-rotted horse manure, packed with nutrients and moisture retention properties, making them the ideal mulching material around thirsty plants such as roses or edibles, especially pumpkins, and squashes. Beware, though; make sure it has been left to rot for at least two years to avoid damaging plant leaves while breaking down and extracting nutrients from your soil in the process!

Homemade Garden Compost: 

To create homemade garden compost – an all-round mulch perfect for retaining moisture, suppressing weeds, and enriching soil—add kitchen scraps and garden waste to a bin, turning every few months until you have usable compost within six-12 months – check out our tests of best garden shredders and best compost bins to get started.

Composted Wood Chips or Bark:

Composted wood chips or bark is an ideal material to add bulky mulches. As it disintegrates slowly, this material helps improve soil structure through improved drainage and moisture retention; its dark hue also complements plant growth beautifully.

Mushroom Compost:

mushroom compost (often known as spent) which can be easily applied and distributed as a light mulch material. Its alkaline pH level makes this alkaline mulch ideal for lime-loving vegetables like kale, cabbages, and broccoli that thrive with limey conditions – but you should steer clear from using it on any acid-hating plants such as rhododendrons, camellias, or heather as they could potentially harm their root systems!

Inorganic Mulches:

Inorganic mulches include: 

Rocks or Gravel Mulch:

Rock or gravel mulches are popularly used in gravel gardens. They seal moisture into the soil and suppress weeds. While also helps seal in moisture from rainfall and suppressing weeds. They’re best used in drought-resistant planting schemes.

Plastic landscape fabric (PFC):

Plastic landscape fabric (PFC) can help suppress weeds in soil by being laid over it, but some fabrics work better than others and some will disintegrate over time, leaching plastic fragments into the soil and surrounding environment. Furthermore, impermeable sheeting stops rain, air, or nutrients from reaching the soil; making this impassive surface an ineffective option when used near plants that need moisture, air, and nutrients to thrive.

Rubber Mulch:

Rubber mulch, made from recycled tires, is another method of controlling weeds that naturally decomposes. But its composition remains uncertain; old tires could contain harmful chemicals from roads that leach into soils.

When to Use Mulch?

When to Use Mulch

Spring and autumn are both good times of the year to use mulch; April is especially good as soil conditions are optimal and plants have just started growing again.

How to Apply Mulch?

Mulching can be straightforward – simply spread 5cm of your chosen mulch across the bed or around key plants without smothering or damaging their lower stems. A thick layer will suppress more weeds while bulbs and other plants will have difficulty growing through more than 5 cm layers. Use either your hands, spade, rake, or how to evenly spread it across the area where you plan to spread it out.

Preparing the soil before beginning is key for successful mulch application and will save both time and effort in the long run: this step can save both.

  • Fork out perennial weeds and pull annual ones out by hand. 
  • Rake the surface of the soil to level out any dips or hollows before re-firming as necessary. 
  • Water thoroughly before applying mulch so it retains water in the soil.

Where To Apply Mulch?

Mulching Around Spring Bulbs – Mulch should be applied around spring bulbs as their foliage dies back to provide vital nourishment and water storage at exactly the right moment for each bulb, helping it survive even in dry environments. Mulching will also minimize digging which can damage them more severely.

Under Hedge – While hedges may receive regular clipping, their roots often remain compacted together and require regular mulching to retain moisture and feed their plants. To maximize success when mulching hedges, ensure the soil is moist or watered well before mulching.

By creating visual contrast with dark organic mulch, herbaceous perennials will stand out beautifully. After having divided and watered them, mulching around their new plants will give them an additional boost as the growing season commences.

Fruit Trees and Bushes Need Moisture– Fruit trees and bushes require ample moisture in their roots during fruit formation to avoid problems like pesticide use, disease resistance, and weeds growing out of control. A regular mulch application will prevent these issues while keeping plants healthy and disease-free.

How to Make Mulch?

Mulch can be created at home by composting kitchen and garden waste. Leaf mold can also be made at home. If you have access to local stables, purchase or request horse manure that can rot down for use as mulch (but ensure all animal manures have had at least two years to break down before using on plants).

Problems With Mulching 

  1. When mulching too heavily, bulbs and herbaceous plants will struggle to grow. To fix this, gently use a rake or long-handled cultivator to thin out the mulch layer so your plants may flourish better
  2. An additional issue you could run into when using manure as mulch for plants is scorch marks on leaves and even distortion of them over time. If not properly digested, this can damage plants as a whole as well as their leaves becoming deformed over time.
  3. Some types of inorganic mulches can decompose into the soil over time and heat the planting area while potentially leaching harmful chemicals into it.

FAQs About Mulch

Q1. What is mulching?

Mulching means to cover the soil with organic or inorganic materials. It is done to:

  • Conserve moisture, 
  • Suppress weeds, and 
  • Improve soil health.

Q2. What is the purpose of mulching?  

We spread a layer of material on the soil surface in mulching. The main purpose is to protect and enrich the soil.

Q3. Why is it called mulch?

The term “mulch” comes from the Middle English word “molsh,”. It means soft or decayed. Refers to the organic materials used to cover the soil.

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