It seems everyone is talking about mulching. Most of the time when people think about mulching, they think of flower beds and trees, but not their garden. Why should we use deep mulch in the garden? I’m glad you asked!
Using Mulch in The Garden
Mulch serves several purposes at one time and 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 are the best mulching options for the garden?
- 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 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, air flow, 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 not necessary, it is easier to take a little precaution. I’m still known to skip this step…So I guess at least “I” didn’t learn the lesson.
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.
Leaves For Mulch
Some people collect the leaves and grass trimmings their neighbors don’t use. Be careful about this since you don’t want to put chemicals in your food soil.
This is the reason we don’t use synthetic barriers, newspapers, or cardboard as 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.
If you’re looking to learn more about soil health and maintenance you can check out these articles.
As always, we’re here to help.
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