Mulch

17 August 2022

As summer wanes, it is a little cooler to work in our flower beds and we begin the preparation for fall and winter. This often includes adding a layer of mulch.

There are many good reasons to add mulch to your gardens. Aesthetically it provides a layer of color, even if the mulch is brown. It makes the beds look manicured and can help the plants pop color, even if the plants are only green, and complement the color of the exterior of your home or office. All of this adds to your curb appeal.

Wood mulches or those made from organics will actually improve the soil around your plants. Insects and microorganisms will consume the mulch over time. What is injested is then digested and beneficial byproducts are returned to the soil and absorbed by the plantings. This will supplement any plant food feedings that you include in your routine.

It will help, at least to a certain extent, weeds creeping in. Accumulation of dust and seeds blowing and deposited in the area can still germinate, but not nearly to the extent as in gardens without mulch. The mulch will block the sunlight that the weeds need to grow and you have a better chance of keeping them at bay. Some people like to place a weed mat. However, personal experiences vary. If you decide to remove the mat, you will find the soil slimy and if you are hoping for a well drained garden, you will be disappointed. The mat also prevents many of the nutrients from the plant food you apply from reaching all the plant roots.

One of the best benefits of mulch is that it evens out the temperature of the soil. So, it allows the plant to have cool in the summer and warmth during the winter chill. Mulching is especially important for those trees, bulbs, flowers, and shrubs that are planted in the fall since they are still tender when the temperatures drop and we experience those sporadic warm spells.

Another ecologic and economic advantage is that it conserves moisture. That means you need to water less as evaporation is slowed.

Some municipalities and tree services offer wood chips free or at reasonable prices. There has been concern that these chips will retain nitrogen and that will prevent plants from reaching full potential. Generally this is not a concern. However, if the chips are mixed into the soil, there can be some issues. The organisms that feed on wood chips don’t always find enough nutrients and will borrow nitrogen from the surrounding soil. This is not a problem is the mulch is only on top of the soil and not mixed in with it.

One concern about using wood chips as mulch is that they will be attractive to termites. These insects are sensitive to light and heat and will not be interested in the wood mulch if it is less than three inches deep. It is also a good idea to leave an open space of several inches next to the house. That gives you a good view of what is happening and can nip any problems before they become major issues.

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