My Dad is still in sunny Florida and he takes great joy in reminding me of how nice his weather is compared to mine. Today I beat him to the daily weather text with my own snarky – “Morning Dad! It’s raining again here, but I’m glad because the mud was just starting to dehydrate!”. His reply text was “Your brother and I don’t think you are very funny”. I might not have inherited my Dads sense of humor, but he did teach me a thing or two about how to maintain a garden with as little work as possible. The following blog is all about our family secret to success!
Want to garden with less work? Enjoy my simple one step process to less work in the garden – add more mulch. Gardening is part art and part science and the myths and mysteries surrounding mulch in gardens seems to often take artistic license with something that sound science shows help us succeed. Take the spring pledge to spend more time enjoying your yard and less time working in it by adding more mulch!
Q. What is the purpose of using mulch in the garden?
A. Mulch serves several purposes. It will not just suppress weeds and slow moisture evaporation, but should also break down into the underlying soil gradually and thereby improve the soil’s texture. A layer of mulch helps moderate soil temperatures. Mulch serves as a buffer from soil compaction caused by rain, and helps prevent the crusting-over of bare soil that can sometimes prevent moisture from being absorbed.
Q. What makes good mulch?
A. This can be very confusing, particularly because what’s sold as “mulch” in many cases isn’t really very suitable for most of the garden tasks I specified above. In short, your mulch needs to be;
An organic substance (meaning deriving from some living or formerly living matter)
Fine- to medium-textured so it will break down into the underlying soil, but substantial enough to stay put for the season and most importantly it needs to be free from contaminants and chemical treatments
Q. When do I apply it, and how much should I use?
A. I mulch my perennial and shrub beds in spring, but not until after the soil has a chance to warm and dry a bit. I also am conscious of areas where I want biennials and other self-sown plants to have a chance to do their thing; mulching these too soon may prevent successful reseeding.
Q. How much mulch do I need?
A. You want a 2- or 3-inch layer, generally speaking, and if you use the right stuff, about half of that will work into the underlying soil before you go to replenish in fall or the next spring.
Keep the mulch a couple of inches away from trunks of trees and shrubs; never pile it up, volcano-like, against them, as that can invite pests and diseases and stunt growth.
Anytime I work in an area and disturb the mulch, I add a bit more rather than leave bare spots. I apply mulch to new beds whenever I plant.
Q. Do I have to move the mulch before adding compost and fertilizer?
A. If you use a mulch that has the correct texture and has been composted first, this should not be a problem. I simply “topdress” (spread compost and all-natural organic fertilizer like Espoma Plant Tone right on top of last year’s partly decomposed mulch) then replenish the mulch as needed.
A good mulch will break down and improve the soil below it. I don’t mean it breaks down in a week or a month, but over the course of a season or two.
If you have a thick layer of mulch that’s not breaking down nicely, and the layer is just getting thicker and thicker each year, rake some away and then add your amendments like compost and fertilizer and start using a new, better-quality mulch this year on top of that.
Q. Will mulch prevent weeds?
A. Mulch won’t stop weeds completely. Applied deep enough, it will prevent many weed seeds already in the soil from germinating and growing. But it won’t stop weeds that have already rooted. Tough weeds like dandelions will push right through if you don’t dig them out first. And more weed seeds will blow in and take root in the mulch (in both organic and stone). All mulch-covered gardens require maintenance, but considerably less than if you don’t use mulch.
I use an organic weed preventer with Corn Gluten from Jonathan Green to help stop weed seeds from germinating on top of my mulched garden beds. I spread the preventer after I’ve finished applying the mulch and then water it in to keep it in place.
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Michelle and Team Lakeview