Welcome to the world of deep mulch gardening where soil is nurtured, plants flourish, and this age-old practice of cultivation takes a modern twist. Deep mulch gardening is a method that offers a sustainable and efficient approach to cultivating bountiful harvests. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just beginning to garden, join us as we uncover the secrets, benefits, and techniques that make deep mulch gardening crucial to sustainable agriculture and homegrown abundance.
What is Deep Mulch Gardening?
Deep mulch gardening is the practice of layering organic materials like straw, leaves, and compost onto the soil surface creating a thriving environment for beneficial microorganisms, enhancing soil structure and fertility over time. The natural breakdown of these materials adds valuable nutrients to the soil, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers and minimizing the risk of nutrient runoff.
Using deep mulch in the garden offers numerous advantages, such as water conservation, weed suppression, soil enrichment, and temperature moderation. We all like things that serve more than one purpose, right. Mulch is a great way to enhance your soil and change its composition. It helps to conserve water which, especially in hot, dry areas, is important.
Just as important, it smothers out most weeds although I’ve not had success smothering out morning glory…Ugh!
We started using deep mulch in our garden several years ago and immediately saw benefits. Our most readily available option for mulch material was hay.
Can you say “mistake”? Several years passed and we were still pulling up grass coming from that hay mulch. Oh well, we learn from our mistakes.
What Type of Materials Should I Use for Deep Mulch Gardening?
- Pine straw (pine needles to anyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line)
- Grass Clippings
- Cover crops
- Wood Chips
- Synthetic materials like black plastic
- Newspaper and cardboard
- Straw (different from hay)
We use pine straw, grass clippings, and leaves. We would use straw, but don’t have it readily available. We also use cover crops for helping with the mulch.
*Update 2022 – We have started using Coconut Coir this year. The reasons we decided to use it as mulch in the garden are:
- Explosive root formation and increased plant vigor
- Superior water retention allows for excellent air space and drainage
- Helps break up hard clay soils so that nutrients can be used more efficiently. In our area of MS, we have heavy clay in the soil so every amendment that helps with this problem is exciting to us.
- Stable, balancing pH of 5.8-6.8 pH is crucial to successful gardening. We have an article about pH levels, how to check them, and how to amend them.
- We soak our coconut coir in warm water with our favorite calcium supplement (read about that here) then rinse it. This allows any remaining salt to be washed away but the calcium stays in the coir.
How to Use Deep Mulch In Your Garden
Ideally, you need to chip up the mulch or run a lawnmower over it and cut it up before spreading it. This does aid decomposition, airflow, and water flow, we live in the real world and I haven’t taken the time to chop/cut mine up but once.
I really can’t tell a big difference. It isn’t necessary to chip them up first, but whole leaves take longer to decompose and create pockets making it more difficult for air and water to flow.
A lesson we learned the hard way, of course, is that it is best to weed the area before you mulch. We put down a thick layer of mulch only to have too many weeds come up through it. So, while it’s unnecessary, taking a little precaution is easier.
How Deep Does Mulch Need to Be?
Most experts say 2-3 inches of mulch is sufficient. I, however, am in the Ruth Stout circle who believes more is better, at least when it comes to mulch. We lay a minimum of 3″ and go up to 6-8″ depending on time and season.
If you’ve done any research on mulching, I know the name Ruth Stout has come up as the top expert. She left us a great legacy with her work, No-Work Gardening Book.
I don’t intend to exhaust the subject of mulching in this article but hopefully, I’ve got you thinking and ready to get mulching! Use whatever mulching material readily available to you.
Can I Use Leaves For Deep Mulch Gardening?
Some people collect the leaves and grass trimmings their neighbors don’t use. Be careful since you don’t want to put chemicals in your food soil. So be sure to ask them what if any fertilizers or other chemicals they use.
We have a lot of hardwoods so we use a sweeper bag on the lawn mower to pick up the leaves and it mulches them. They work great in our garden as part of our deep mulch.
Other Options for Deep Mulch
Some people use synthetic barriers, newspapers, or cardboard as part of their deep mulch in the garden. Since they’re all made with chemicals, they release chemicals into the soil.
We’re organic, non-GMO sustenance farmers so while these may work well, they just don’t fit our goals. As always, decide what works best for you. Don’t take anyone’s word for it, research and experiment for yourself.
How often should I add new layers of mulch in deep mulch gardening?
The rule of thumb is to add new mulch as often as needed to maintain the 3-6″ minimum or whatever depth you decide works for you. Once your mulch is established this will probably be once a year depending on the area you live in. We add new mulch to our garden once a year as part of preparing the garden for fall.
As with any gardening method, deep mulch gardening does require thoughtful planning and ongoing management. Adjustments to the type and amount of mulch, careful observation of plant health, and periodic maintenance are all essential components of successful implementation. However, the rewards are undoubtedly worth the effort, as deep mulch gardens tend to be more resilient in the face of weather fluctuations and pest invasion.
You may also enjoy
As always, we’re here to help.