Using Mulch and Fertilizer to Protect and Feed Your Garden

Hand holding home made compost, made from a mixture of recycled kitchen waste, leaf mold and garden and grass clippings.

The health of your soil can determine the health of your plants. Nutrient-void soil generally produces sickly plants. The easiest way to improve the structure of your soil is to add nutrients to it. Building up the health of your soil should always be a primary concern, especially if you are growing fruits and vegetables organically. Before you develop a soil improvement plan, it is always best to take a soil sample to reveal what your soil is lacking. While there are a few ways to improve the structure of your soil, mulching and fertilizing are two of the most popular.


Mulching, also known as top dressing, is a common practice that has many benefits. Mulch provides an attractive final touch to garden beds, helps retain moisture, keeps weeds at bay, protects plants and can improve the soil. One of the first things to understand about mulch is that in order to improve soil and increase the health of plants, mulch must be organic. Only organic mulch decomposes and provides the nutrients necessary to improve soil composition. Organic mulch includes but is not limited to such things as grass clippings, shredded leaves, worm casings, peat moss, newspaper, coconut husks and alfalfa hay. Inorganic mulches include synthetic materials such gravel, pebbles, plastic and landscape fabric. Some people are convinced that wood mulch is a better alternative to rubber mulch. While it is true that rubber is synthetic and will not contribute to the soil structure, they can serve other useful purposes, and wood mulch can create problems of its own. As wood mulch breaks down, it can steal nitrogen from plants during decomposition. Colored mulch can be another serious concern as it often contains high quantities of chemical dyes. It is always best to do your research before purchasing colored mulch for your garden or reserve using it for landscape areas only.


All plants require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, also known as N-P-K. The nitrogen is essential for foliage growth, the phosphorus for flower production and the potassium for strong stem development. Decomposing organic material such as coffee grounds, straw, banana peelings, ground chicken bones and egg shells, and horse or cow manure are beneficial to garden soil. Some organic gardeners make up their own organic fertilizer mixtures. One popular organic fertilizer additive is molasses. Molasses can be added to composted manure to make a tea mixture that keeps pests away while feeding plants. Spread fertilizer on your garden plants frequently during the growing season to provide a healthy, nutrient-dense boost.

Maintaining Soil Health

Adding organic mulch and organic fertilizer consistently will increase soil health over time, leaving your plants strong and beautiful.