The many benefits of mulching

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 02/04/2016 | 00:00

Andrew Collyer.
Andrew Collyer.

Get those dandelions before they get you

Magnolia stellata

A glance around the garden this week confirms that spring is well and truly upon us. Herbaceous plants are erupting from the soil as fresh and clean as newborns and the fat buds of shrubs and trees are begining to show some green.

Regardless of the weather, nature will not be denied and with the clocks also having gone forward an hour your last excuse for not getting out into the garden has gone. And why would you want an excuse anyway to not get out and beathe in all the life that spring brings with it.

The phrase 'A stitch in time saves nine' also comes to mind because nature and your garden won't be waiting for you to make the first move.

Mulching might be one of the first jobs you consider when you open that creaky shed door this week-end because it can act as a preemptive stitch in the work load required for the year. Now is an ideal time to get this job done.

Mulching is the process of covering the soil around your plants with an imported material. The following are some popular mulching materials.

1, Bark is the single most used mulch. It comes in varying grades from fine, that looks like compost, to coarse bark chips which can be quite chunky. Personally I prefer the fine stuff as it doesn't blow around like the coarse grades and I feel it looks more decorative.

Birds do however love picking through it looking for worms and grubs. There is a worry that as bark breaks down it uses nitrogen from the soil as part of the process. This problem is in reality very minor and if you fertilise annually at this time of year, as is good gardening practice, the problem is negligible.

2, Wood chips is literally the corewood of trees chipped into small fragments. It tends to be light in colour and I think unattractive. It takes a long time to break down so it is long lasting. It is cheaper than bark. You can make your own wood chip mulch by shredding bare winter twigs and branches from your garden. Spread them direct rather than composting them. Both bark and wood chips are biodegradable so over the long term add nutrients to your soil but also need topping up.

3, Gravel or stone chippings can also be used as a mulch. I'm personally not a big fan of these materials unless you are creating a rockery or scee garden. It all looks a little hard and stark for my tastes. One plus is that as it is not biodegradable so it is a job for life. It works well with weed mat because of its weight and permanence. Raking leaves off gravel is painful though.

4, Home made compost, well rotted farmyard manure, and spent mushroom compost are also great mulching materials.

benefits of mulching

1, Gives an attractive uniform finish to your beds.

2, It helps retain moisture in the soil in summer.

3, It supresses weeds.

4, It protects plants roots from frost in winter.

5, Biodegradeable mulch improves soil structure and adds nutrients.

6, It encourages worms and other beneficial organisms.

To apply a mulch first remove all existing weeds. To be effective you need between 2 and 3 inches in depth of mulch. You can cover an entire bed or with biodegradable materials mulch under individual plants within beds. If doing this you should cover an area of the width of the plants canopy.

If laying over a weed mat ensure that the ground beneath the mat is as smooth as possible. This will ensure that you don't use up copious amounts of expensive mulch leveling off over mat rucks.

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