Mulch is a useful addition to any garden or yard. Whether it's organic or inorganic, mulch helps moderate soil temperature and weather damage, prevent weed growth, and retain soil moisture. Plus, a well-incorporated batch of mulch can totally transform the aesthetic of a garden or flower bed and give it a unique flair.
Mulching your garden or flower bed is an affordable and easy project, but if you're new to mulching, you may have some questions about how to get the best results out of your efforts. These steps will help you understand the ins and outs of how to use mulch.
Step 1 - Choose a Mulch Type
For flower beds, organic mulches are typically better than inorganic ones. Organic mulches are composed of wood products, such as bark and branches, other plant material, or beans.
Organic mulches enrich the soil as they decompose and provide a welcoming habitat for earthworms and beneficial microorganisms. On the flip side, they can also attract pests like moles and rabbits.
Organic mulches come in a variety of consistencies. Mulches that are shredded 2-3 times are finer than single-shredded mulches and may be easier to spread and work with in a garden. Additionally, mulches may be aged up to several months in order to enhance the decomposition process. This provides additional nourishment to the soil. With that in mind, you will need to eventually replenish your mulch once it decomposes fully.
In very wet climates, organic mulch can hold too much moisture. This can attract snails and slugs, and potentially cause the stems of your plants to rot. If you have a problem with rodents, or live in a very moist climate, you may want to consider using an inorganic mulch, such as shredded rubber. The upside of inorganic mulch, is that it tends to have a longer lifespan.
Step 2 - Measure the Right Quantity
For a flower bed or similar areas of your garden, mulch should typically be between 2-4 inches thick. A layer of mulch that is too thin may not adequately protect your soil from weather damage and weeds, while a layer that is too thick may retain too much moisture and eventually lead to rot.
Your mulch amounts should also be calculated in accordance with your specific soil properties. Soils that tend to retain water will require less mulch than sandy soils. Additionally, mulch tends to settle and compact as it decomposes over time, so consider applying an additional inch or so of mulch to your soil after some time has passed.
Renew organic mulches every year or two as they break down. You can dig the old mulch into the garden soil to finish decomposing, or simply spread a new layer of mulch directly on top of the old.
Step 3 - Mulch Your Garden At the Best Time
If you are mulching a flowerbed, as opposed to a garden or whole yard, apply your mulch in the later parts of spring just before the weather turns warm.
Before applying mulch, carefully remove all weeds and roots from the garden. Just as mulch can supercharge your plants, it can also provide a great environment for weeds, so get them out of the way ahead of time.
If weeds are still a concern, put down a layer of five to seven sheets of newspaper before mulching to help cut the risk of weeds. Be sure to remove any labels from the paper. Labels could be problematic in your soil, but newspaper ink is soy-based, so it won't add toxins to the soil as it decomposes, and in fact, instead adds organic material.
Be careful not to choke the flowers by covering them with mulch. Rather, leave a few inches of space around each flower or bush.
Step 4 - Source Your Mulch
Although store-bought mulch is high quality and tends to be relatively cheap, many gardeners and homeowners opt to create their own mulch. If this is your first time mulching, buying a pre-made mulch may be easier.
But moving forward, making mulch at home requires very little time and effort. You will need a garden shredder or chipper however. Homemade mulch is also an excellent way to clean up yard debris in an environmentally-friendly manner. Whether you choose homemade or commercial mulch, your garden will be healthier and more visually appealing if you plan carefully.