Mulching might not be as fun or colorful of a topic as our favorite bulbs and blooms, but it’s an important tool to make sure that our gardens are looking their best, full of healthy plants and bulbs that are given their ideal conditions to shine! Mulching has tons of advantages and is as simple as sprinkling a layer of protective material on the ground around your plants, masking the soil. The benefits are far more complicated and involved, and for all of the work involved, mulching is more than worth its weight to your garden and plants - even beyond simple aesthetics.
Mulching in Dry Climates
For those gardening in places that are hot and dry in the summer, you know that it is almost impossible to keep up with evaporation when it comes to watering your plants. Your thirsty garden needs a lot more water in dry heat, and spraying hundreds of gallons from the hose is not only a pain, it’s also not very good for the environment.
Conserving water doesn’t mean that you have to give up on having your plants look their best while staying well-hydrated. A layer of mulch offers the protection from the sun that your soil needs to retain the water you work hard to give it, while also keeping the delicate roots of your favorite plants and bulbs from frying. As an added bonus, you’ll also block out the UV rays that weed seeds and any other unwanted upstarts need to germinate. Weeds crowd your desired plants, stealing water and nutrients from them.
Mulching for Winter Protection
Anyone with a winter below freezing knows how difficult the cold season can be on your garden. While we hide away in our temperature-controlled homes with a warm furnace and some hot chocolate, the garden is rooted to the spot outside, shivering away.
Using mulch helps insulate the roots of your garden so that your perennials don’t suffer from extreme temperature changes. Mulch insulates the soil in winter to prevent frost heaving, where plants are pushed out of the ground due to the upward swell of soil during a freeze. It also eases the transition from fall to winter and back to spring, when freezing and thawing temperatures wreak havoc on gardens. Because mulch provides an insulating layer, the soil tends to warm up more slowly in spring and cool down more slowly in fall than unmulched soil. By using mulch to keep the soil a more consistent temperature, your plants experience less stress.
Mulching for Aesthetic
The benefits of mulching for your plants aside, mulch gives your garden a tidy appearance that simply can’t be beaten. You’ll have a uniform surface that is bursting with life, all while making the growth of unwanted weeds much trickier - resulting in less weeding for you. Healthy and happy plants look better, too, so you’ll not only have a cleaner looking garden but a more lush and potentially colorful one, too. Also, mulch helps prevent soil compaction during heavy rains and keeps flowers and veggies free from soil splatters during rainstorms.
Mulching vs. Stone
Some people opt to mulch with stone rather than with organic materials, and while this can be a pretty look, it doesn’t provide the same benefits that natural mulch does - not to mention being far more expensive. With natural mulch, there are tons of budget-friendly options that provide more for your soil and garden while still creating a beautiful look.
There are lots of options for mulching that all bring different things to the table. Before choosing a mulch, think about what you want your mulch to do for you, what type of look you want, and what type of materials you were thinking of - this will help you to find the option that fits your wishes better. Once you’ve got something in mind, consider these wonderful options:
Bark Mulch: Made from textured shreds and nuggets of tree bark, this mulch is a great all-natural material for your garden that prevents weeds and insulates your soil, locking in moisture. You can choose a variety of colors (natural options, mostly, derived from what type of tree it is from) to decorate your landscape. Bark mulches actually decompose over time so while you will have to refresh your garden look every once in a while, they actively bring nutrients to your soil with every season.
Wood Chips: Another natural solution, these have a very similar look to the bark chips options - although they introduce the option of treated chips with a more uniform dyed color to make your garden look spectacular. Look for treated chips with a natural dye that will ensure that your soil stays free of harmful chemicals and is still treated to provide a nutrient boost.
Straw: A less tidy, but more cottage-style look, straw is an all-natural and incredibly effective way to mulch your garden. Apply in the autumn to protect seeds lurking under the surface of the soil as they overwinter, and appreciate this unique look all summer. Keep in mind that straw may contain some seeds of its own that will need to be dealt with, so it may not be an ideal choice for those looking to reduce their garden workload - unless opting for the more expensive, seed-free straw options, which have far fewer seeds.
Compost: For the functional, but less tidy look, this mulching method provides the maximum amount of nutrients into your soil. For optimal seed-prevention and insulation, use a thick layer that is between 2 and 4 inches thick.
Leaf and Grass Clippings: The ultimate upcycling, simply empty your lawn mower bag, or rake up some leaves, and apply them to your garden bed. It’s the easiest and cheapest mulch material that you can find, but it still provides nutrients and blocks weeds from growing, all while insulating the soil and locking in moisture. It might not look the tidiest, but that freshly-mowed lawn smell is enough to convince some people that it’s the best style to go for a healthy garden.
And, our favorite for years, Pine Straw: Pine straw, at least in our area of the U.S., is readily available year ‘round. We use to gather it from the woods, the roadsides, even in our own yard. It wasn’t pristine and clean, having pine cones and bark in it, but like straw, it is lightweight, easy to find and transport, allows water and applied nutrients to filter through while keeping sunlight out to inhibit weed growth. If you don’t have your own pine straw readily available, it is becoming more and more popular and some landscape suppliers have it available for pick up or delivery.
Mulching is clearly a great option for the health of your plants and soil. Depending on the options that you choose for your own home, mulch can benefit you through things like ease of care and aesthetic. We plant the bulbs, flowers, and bushes that we want to appreciate all year, but adding mulch makes sure that what we want to cherish in our garden is as healthy and fabulous looking as possible, without adding too much extra daily toil.
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