When I first started gardening here in South Carolina, I didn’t pay much attention to mulch. That first year, wood chip mulch was more for replacing the grass around my raised beds than anything else. However, after that first summer, I began to realize that mulch should be a very important part of my garden.
I first thought that the main purpose of mulch was to decrease the weeds in the garden, so I passed it off as not that important. Well, I not only spent a lot of time weeding that first summer, I also discovered that my soil was losing its “loaminess” in the searing heat of the South Carolina sun. What I failed to understand was that healthy soil is full of beneficial living organisms that must be fed and protected, and they, in turn, will feed and protect my plants. Mulch is so much more than a means of reducing weeds.
THE BENEFITS OF MULCH IN THE GARDEN
Here are all the benefits of using mulch in your garden:
- Reduces weeds
- Makes it much easier to pull weeds – roots and all
- Is a continuous source of organic matter for your soil
- Moderates soil temperature – keeps the soil warmer during cool weather and cooler during hot weather (Here in South Carolina, it’s a parasol for my plants’ roots!)
- Helps retain moisture in the soil
- Reduces soil compaction
- Improves soil fertility
- Reduces disease (Many soil-borne pathogens are splashed onto plant leaves by falling rain; mulch provides a protective layer between the soil and plant leaves.)
- Promotes healthy mycorrhiza, the fungi that benefits plant roots, increasing plant growth, vigor, and disease resistance
TYPES OF MULCH FOR THE GARDEN
There are many types of mulch you can use in the garden.
- Wood chips – use large chips around trees and bushes and finer chips in the vegetable garden
- Pine needles – great for acid-loving plants
- Grass clippings – endless, free supply all summer
- Dried leaves – cut them up with your lawn mower and spread in your garden (beats having to rake them up, too!)
- Straw – don’t use hay, which contains seeds
AN EXPERIMENT WITH MULCH
During summer #2 (last summer), I decided to mulch a few beds with grass clippings – as an experiment. I chose grass clippings because they’re easy to spread around existing plants, and they decompose more quickly than other mulches. Plus, it was free.
I was amazed at the difference between the beds with mulch and those without! The soil under the grass clippings was loamy and moist – even after weeks in the summer heat. The soil in the unmulched beds was dry, fine, and even hard in some places. It looked…dead.
During the short off-season this past winter, I covered my fallow beds with dried leaves that had been cut up with my lawn mower. When I pulled the mulch off those beds this spring to prep for planting, I dug into the most organic soil I have ever had in my raised beds! It was black loam that smelled like a forest. That did it for me. Never again will I have naked soil in my garden. Even my planters and pots are now mulched!
AN AWESOME MOVIE
A month or so ago, I came across an awesome movie about how to garden nature’s way ~ using mulch. I saw that not only was this way best for my soil and my plants (which my experiment had already shown me), but it would also eventually cut down on my work load as well as save me money. What gardener wouldn’t love that??
The movie is called, Back to Eden. This is a full length movie, so make yourself some popcorn and curl up on the couch to watch it on your Smart-TV or your computer. You’re going to love it.