When mulching your garden, understanding your soil and its needs are the key to gardening success. Soil acts as an anchor for plant roots and holds air, water and plant nutrients which are essential for continued plant growth. Mulching your garden helps trap valuable moisture in your soil improving the availability uptake of nutrients and also preventing weed growth.
Why do you mulch soils?
Mulching your soil is an important step for improving the structure of your soil making them able to hold on to more nutrients, moisture and air. You may think that you are only placing a blanket over your soil, but in fact, the mulches are breaking down and releasing valuable content into your soils. So one simple act will improve your soil, keeps weeds at bay and make your beds and borders look far better.
Why do soils need improving?
Clay soils: Although clay soils hold nutrients well, they are heavy, slow to warm up and tend to be too wet (sticky) in the winter and too dry (rock hard) in the summer. The key to improving these soils is to break up the mass and increase aeration and drainage by adding composted soil conditioner to achieve a crumb-like texture.
Silty soils: Silt particles are extremely fine and tend to rise to the soil surface forming a water-resistant crust when dry. Adding soil improver will help with the structure and allow water to penetrate.
Sandy soils: These are very light, easily eroded, dry and lack substance and the ability to hold water or nutrients. Soil improvers help to retain moisture and nutrients before they leach away.
Regular mulching will help improve all these soil types and give you much stronger, healthier plants - with the added benefit of reducing weed growth!
What is mulching?
Mulching your garden is adding a thick layer of organic matter (usually manure, compost or bark) on the surface, this will help to retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, add nutrients and insulate plant roots. The best garden mulch should be attractive too. Try decorative bark or woodchip mulch. Each will provide an attractive surface that adds a decorative and useful finish to flower beds, around the base of trees and along the edges of paths. Make sure you water the ground thoroughly before you add your layer of mulch, you need to trap the moisture in the soil so make sure there is moisture there first!
Different types of mulch
There are many different organic mulches available, the best ones will form a dense mat holding in water and gradually breaking down releasing nutrients into the soil. Well, rotted Farmyard Manure is often used and is great for keeping weeds off empty beds that are resting over winter, waiting for their spring planting. When you are ready to plant simply dig the manure in and you have a well fertilised, weed-free soil to start planting up.
Leaf mulch is used in a similar way and can easily be made at home by having a separate compost bin just to collect leaves in, the leaves rot down over the year and produce a lovely organic mulch, and it's free! Composted bark is another good choice, much less smelly than the manure and generally darker and richer in colour so more pleasing to the eye.
Wood chip mulch is a popular option, it can come in a range of sizes and styles. Pine bark nuggets tend to be viewed as the most attractive of the barks, with the stripped bark similar to the type you see in children play areas being the cheapest option. Pine back should only be used on paths and not for mulching beds and borders.
How to apply mulch
- Clear the site of all weeds
- If the ground is dry, water thoroughly
- Cover the area in a layer of your chosen garden mulch
- Make sure the area has a mulch depth of at least 2 inches (5cm)
- Clear the mulch away from the stems of the plants
- Use a plastic rake to gently level the surface