No doubt about it! Mulching is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your gardens and for you. Some types of mulch are organic and therefore especially good for soil and plants but even artificial types of mulch benefit gardens.
Soil is composed of solid minerals, organic (living) particles, and pore space. Mulch positively enhances all of those components. Mulching increases what scientists refer to as the Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), which means the soil’s capacity to hold charged ions. Having the right ion activity going on in the soil helps stabilize it, aiding nutrient storage, lowering its pH, and affecting the soil’s reaction to fertilisers. What the CEC process does for your gardens is to make nearly everything you plant sprout and grow.
Here Are a Dozen Dandy Reasons to Mulch.
1. Mulch Prompts Seedling Emergence
Mulch holds seeds and the soil around them in place. Mulch around seedlings and put a light covering over any seeds. Straw is a good mulch to hold seeds in place but be forewarned that it contains its own seeds that will sprout as well as the planted seeds. You may want to pull those errant wheat plants.
2. Mulch Reduces Weed Germination
Mulch applications can help reduce weeds by blocking light. The key is to have the mulch thick enough to do the job. At least 2.5 cms of mulch thickness is needed to effectively stop seed germination. The light-stopping benefits are even greater if mulching water permeable fabric is laid down before the mulch is applied.
3. Mulch Conserves Water
Mulch holds in moisture since it does not allow wind and sun to dry the soil. Conserving water may be the greatest benefit to mulching gardens and one of the most environmentally conserving measures because it reduces the number of times you will need to water and reduces water costs. In addition, its water-conserving qualities keep the soil from shrinking and hardening, a process called compaction.
4. Mulch Reduces Soil Compaction
Mulch provides a cushion between the soil and anything that tramps upon it. Compacting soil hardens, making it difficult for roots to push through the soil. Air is also reduced and roots need air. The reduction of air also affects organic nutrients that need air to reproduce.
5. Mulch Regulates Soil Temperature
Plants need light to grow, as you know, but too much sunlight causes the soil temperatures to rise to high for some plants. Some plants can survive in hot temperatures (cactus, for instance) but most cannot. Most garden plants will tolerate soil temperatures between 15 and 26 degrees.
6. Mulch Increases Organic Matter
Organic matter is good for your plants. As mulch decays it produces organic matter. During initial decaying, mulch uses a lot of nitrogen and you may need to add nitrogen to make up for the loss. Once the decaying cycle gets in full swing, the organic matter will actually increase nitrogen.
7. Mulch Increases Plant Nutrient Uptake
Remember that the process of cation that I mention above helps stabilize the soil, aids soil nutrient storage, affects soil pH, and positively enhances soil fertiliser. All those positive benefits make it easier for plants to use the nutrients within the soil. You’ll have more beautiful blooms and higher yields of vegetables from your mulched garden. A number of studies have proven these benefits. Even when mulch is used around trees, studies show that the growth rate and healthiness of the trees are enhanced.
8. Mulch Insulates the Soil
Not only does mulch help protect plants during hot temperatures but it protects plants during cold as well. During the winter, perennial plants may freeze and die if not protected. A layer of mulch can insulate plants the same way that your parka insulates your body, creating a buffer against the cold and helping the soil maintain a more constant temperature that plants can tolerate.
9. Mulch Reduces Soil Erosion
Mulch helps hold soil in place during heavy rains and gusty winds. Soil will not wash away as easily and take precious soil nutrients with it, a process called leaching.
10. Mulch Sets Off the Plants
Mulch creates a backdrop for your plants and accentuates their beauty. Mulch comes in a range of colours from yellow to black, colours that are both natural and dyed. The effect can be stunning. Ask your garden professional to recommend a mulch suited to your gardens. Organic, untreated, mulches include hardwood and softwood barks, hay, lawn clippings, leaves, pine needles, sawdust, straw (tomatoes love it!), wood chips (all sizes), and the hulls of plants such as buckwheat, cocoa beans, or peanuts. Be careful of cocoa bean mulch if you have dogs. If they eat it, they will get sick.
11. Mulch Beautifies the Landscape
Since companies dye wood chips, the range of colours are many as are the decorating possibilities. Don’t be concerned about coloured mulch. Most colour varieties are developed with natural substances. Red mulch is dyed with iron oxide, which is just plain rust and non-toxic to plants and the environment. Black mulch is dyed with carbon black, which is essentially burned charcoal. Some companies may also use vegetable dyes, like that used for baking. Choose mulch from a trusted company to assure that toxic chemicals are not used in the process.
12. Mulch Saves Labor
The benefit of mulching for the homeowner is that mulching means less work: less weeding, less watering, and less fertilising.
There you have them: A dozen reasons why mulching should be a priority item on any gardener’s list. We don’t think you can go wrong with mulch.