It seems everyone is talking about mulching. Most of the time when people think about mulching, they think flower beds and trees, but not their garden. Why should we use mulch in our gardens? Glad you asked me that. That one I know the answer to. Mulch serves several purposes at one time and we all like things that serve more than one purpose, right? Mulch is a great way to enhance your soil and change it’s composition. It helps to conserve water which, especially here in the South, is important. Also, and just as important, it smothers out most weeds (not morning glory…Ugh!)
Several years ago we read about mulching and decided to try it. Our most readily available option was hay. Can you say “mistake”? All these years later we are still pulling up grass that came from this hay mulch. Oh well, we learn from our mistakes (at least in gardening). So, what are our mulching options for the garden?
- Pine straw (pine needles to anyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line)
- Grass Clippings
- Cover crops
- Wood Chips
- Synthetic materials like black plastic
- Newspaper and cardboard
- Straw (different from hay)
We use pine straw, grass clippings, and leaves. We would use straw, but don’t have it readily available. We’re going to introduce cover crop mulching next spring. Ideally, you need to chip up the mulch or run a lawn mower over it and cut it up before spreading it. While this does aid decomposition, air flow, and water flow, we live in the real world and I haven’t taken the time to chop/cut mine up but once. I really can’t tell a big difference. It isn’t necessary to chip them up first, but whole leaves take longer to decompose and create pockets making it more difficult for air and water to flow.
A lesson we learned the hard way, of course, is that it is best to weed the area before you mulch. We put down a thick layer of mulch only to have too many weeds come up through it. So, while it’s not necessary, it is easier to take a little precaution. I am still known to skip this step…So I guess at least “I” didn’t learn the lesson. Most experts say 2-3 inches of mulch is sufficient. I, however, am in the Ruth Stout circle who believes more is better, at least when it comes to mulch. We lay a minimum of 3″ and go up to 6-8″ depending on time and season.
If you have done any research on mulching, I know for sure that the name Ruth Stout has come up as the top expert. She left us a great legacy with her work, No-Work Gardening Book. (This is and affiliate link) This is a link to a really good article that shows her style and a taste of her knowledge: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/mulching-ruth-stout-style .
This is not intended to be an exhaustive article on mulching, but hopefully it will get you thinking and experimenting. Just use whatever is available to you. Some people collect the leaves and grass trimmings their neighbors don’t use. Just be careful about this since you don’t want to put chemicals in your food soil. This is why we do not use synthetic barriers, newspapers, or cardboard. These all release chemicals into the soil since they are made with them. We’re organic, non-gmo farmers so while these may work well, they just don’t fit our goals. As always, decide what works best for you. Don’t take anyone’s word for it, research and experiment for yourself.
I hope you are encouraged and enthusiastic about gardening for having visited with me. Let me know your thoughts, experiences, or ideas. You can reach me personally by using the Contact Me page.
Safe and Happy Journey,