What is Mulch & How to Mulch a Garden

What is mulch and how to mulch a garden? In this article, I’ll demystify mulch, the different types of mulches, their uses and how to use it.

While it is not one of more glamorous topics in gardening, it has its uses.  And by understanding it better, you’ll be able to use this affordable resource to your advantage.

 

Mulching

Mulch is any kind of material that’s applied over the soil to cover it. Grass clippings, wood chips, and straw some popular mulching options. Similarly, you’ll find both natural and synthetic options sold in stores as well.

But, the big question is, why mulch?

 

Benefits of Mulching

Adding a layer of mulch over your lawn, yard or garden is commonly done because it helps your soil in many ways. These include:

  • Moderating temperature. It cools the surface during the summer while provides insulation during the winter.
  • Improve water retention. Mulch slows down evaporation allowing the soil to retain moisture longer
  • Prevent and reduce the risk of soil erosion
  • It improves your soil’s structure. This works for organic mulches. As they compose, the organic matter they produce improves your soil quality.
  • Reduce plant disease and weeds

That said, you can’t and shouldn’t just anything as mulch.

 

What is the Best Type of Mulch?

The best type of mulch is something that you can easily apply and remove as needed. It also stays in place so that winds or other elements aren’t going to move it from its place.

Ideally, it should provide organic matter to your soil as well.

Of course, you want the mulch you use to be disease, insect and weed-free. Additionally, you don’t want them to contain any chemicals or other toxic substances.

Last but not least, it should be affordable and easily accessible. After all, if you can’t find it or it’s too expensive to use, it won’t be practical in the long run.

That said, the best type of mulch will do 3 things for you.

  • Help soil retain moisture
  • Regulate surface temperature
  • Prevent weeds from growing

Altogether, these characteristics make the perfect mulch.

Unfortunately, there is no best type of mulch. It all depends on your landscape, what the season is and other factors.

For example, wood chips and straw work great for providing insulation during wintertime. But, they’ll warm your soil a bit too much when spring comes. And, they’re definitely a no-no come summertime.

Similarly, black plastic mulch keeps moisture from evaporating. But, it also prevents water from getting to the soil.

As you can see, there is no one ideal kind of mulch, although some are better than others. But for the most part, you need to take them in context.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing mulch for your vegetable garden.

 

Do You Need Summer or Winter Mulch?
  • Winter mulch provides protection and insulation from the extreme cold temperatures. As such, you lay it down in the fall. Some examples include pine needles, straw and shredded leaves.
  • Summer mulch is used in the spring as the weather starts to gradually rise. Since it’s still cool, these mulches help keep the soil warm but not as much as winter mulches. Also, summer mulches are designed to help the soil retain moisture, prevent compaction, erosion and keep weeds from growing.

 

What are You Planting?

Not all mulch is created equal. Some are ideal for vegetable gardens and fruit trees whereas others are better off for rock gardens, shrubs and non-fruit-bearing trees.

As such, choosing the right kind of mulch goes a long way.

The thing is, while researching online helps, I’ve found that you’ll need to test that advice for yourself. That’s because they may or may not work for you.

 

Is it Affordable and Can You Easily Find It?

Finally, there’s accessibility and cost.

Let’s face it, you’re likely to use and keep reusing something that’s economically practical and easy to get like wood chips, which can sometimes even be free.

But, if it’s hard to find or expensive like buckwheat hulls for example, even if it works really well, you’re less likely to keep using it.

 

Related

 

Types of Mulch

To help you decide what kind of mulch to use for each situation, here’s a table that lists the different types of mulch and their advantages and disadvantages.

Types of Mulch chart. Shows you the pros and cons of different kinds of mulch you can use for your plants and gardens.
Types of Mulch chart. Shows you the pros and cons of different kinds of mulch you can use for your plants and gardens.

 

How to Apply Mulch

Applying mulch is a fairly simple process. But, you’ll need to do it yourself and experiment to get things right. That’s because there are so many kinds of mulch. In addition, the amount of mulch your add will depend a lot on what plants you have and whether you’re mulching for summer or winter.

That said it basically comes down to two steps.

 

Step 1: Weed the area first

Once you know where you want to mulch, you’ll want to get rid of the weeds that are there.

 

Step 2: Spread the mulch

This is the tough part. That’s because a lot of questions come up

  • What kind of mulch do I use
  • How much do I buy
  • How much mulch should I apply
  • Where should I avoid mulching
  • And a few more

Before apply mulch on any area, make sure to check what’s there first. Here are a few tips.

  • Keep mulch away from your home. Leave at least 6-12 inches of space between the mulch and your home or any structure. This prevents termite infestation from occurring since these critters will feed on some types of mulch (those with cellulose).
  • Watch out for woody plants. You also want to keep mulch away from your woody plants’ stems. Doing so keeps wet mulch from causing decay.
  • Trees need more mulch. With trees apply about 3-4 feet of mulch (in diameter) outward. Don’t pile the mulch up against the trunk as this increases the risk of disease and pests.

How deep you should mulch with also depend on a few other things.

  • Sunny areas will need a thicker layer (4-6 inches), while shaded areas much less (2-3 inches).
  • Fine mulch wood chips, grass clippings and shredded leaves should be limited to 2-3 inches in depth. Since they clump together easily, they can restrict air and water flow into the plants.
  • Coarse mulch can be applied as much as 4 inches or so since they’ll allow air and water to get through them easier.