Mulching is an essential step in any garden. It provides protection from the sun, keeps the soil moist, and creates a living environment for beneficial microorganisms that will break down organic matter into nutrients for your plants.
However, it’s easy to mulch incorrectly and end up with dry brown spots around your plants or weeds growing through your mulch. Here we tell you all we know on how to mulch properly for a healthy garden and improved soil.
Keep reading for our best mulching tips.
Make sure you only use organic mulches like straw, hay, or leaves
The best types of mulch are organic. This means they are made of matter that was once alive, like leaves, grass clippings, or straw. Inorganic mulch is usually composed of processed wood products and may contain pesticides or other chemicals. Some sources even report inorganic mulch can be difficult to remove from the soil after decomposing because the chemicals bond with the soil particles.
Organic mulches improve the soil’s health over time
Organic mulches contain decaying leaves, bits of plants, and organic matter that are slowly decomposing. This releases nutrients into the soil that are then available for your plants to use. If you choose a non-organic mulch, make sure it is made from pine needles or wood chips. These decompose quickly and release nutrients into the soil just as mulches do.
Organic mulch feeds beneficial microorganisms
When you first apply your organic mulch, sprinkle it with a teaspoon of humic acid. This is especially important if you are using new wood chips for non-organic mulch. It provides the microorganisms with carbon, which encourages them to multiply. This improves soil health by making nutrients available for your plants and increasing the number of organisms that keep your garden healthy by preying on pests or feeding beneficial insects.
If you use hay for your mulch avoid hay with alfalfa as it will attract aphids
Alfalfa hay will attract whitefly, which are small but pesky bugs that suck sap from plants. You can buy hay without alfalfa, which is a great mulch for vegetable gardens because it provides nutrients to the soil as it decomposes over time.
Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch over an area about 3 feet wide and long to make sure it’s evenly distributed
How much mulch is where most people get it wrong. If you don’t cover the soil with enough mulch, weed seeds will sprout through it. On the other hand, if you put too much mulch down your plants may suffocate and die because their roots aren’t getting any oxygen or nutrients.
So how much mulch do you need? The ideal application is a 2-inch thick layer of mulch that covers the soil completely and is three feet wide and long.
Keep mulch away from tree trunks as they need airflow to help them grow healthy and strong
If you have trees in your garden and landscaping it’s important to keep mulch at least 3-feet away from the base of tree trunks. This allows air to flow in, which is important for healthy tree growth.
Mulch will collect around your plants over time if you don’t periodically pull it back
Over time, mulch that’s applied too thickly or unevenly will collect around your plants, leaving bare soil. This creates the perfect environment for weeds to sprout, which will compete with your plants for nutrients and water. You can solve this problem by spreading mulch back into the soil every few weeks while you’re watering or pulling it away from plant stems when you weed.
Spread out your mulch so that there are no piles or clumps left untouched
Large piles of mulch can suffocate plant roots and create a habitat for slugs. They can also create an uneven layer of mulch, so spreading mulch evenly over the soil is important—this prevents weed growth as well.
Make sure you are spreading out any piles that accumulate over time. Then smooth the mulch back into the soil with a rake or by hand. Look through any garden bed and make sure you don’t have old mulch pooling. Make sure you spread mulch around to have an even layer.
Don’t Forget Your Flower Beds
Using organic materials like straw and grass clippings as mulch isn’t limited to the vegetable garden bed. You can use it on your flower bed and the whole yard to benefit the plants and soil. Using this mulch on your flower bed results in a longer bloom.
Lay mulch on flower beds throughout the growing season, spreading mulch evenly through the bed, to prolong the beauty of your flowers. You can even use a deep mulch bed for your other year-long landscaping to protect plant roots from deep freezes. Mulch flower beds year-round to protect bulbs and nourish the soil.
Wait at least four weeks to plant seeds or set out new plants after adding mulch
There’s a general rule that you shouldn’t apply mulch until the ground has warmed and 4-6 weeks have passed since the last frost. The reason for this is because mulch can inhibit weed growth, which also inhibits the germination of any seeds you plant to replace them. If you apply mulch too soon, you’ll have a weed problem and a crop failure when your plantings begin to die off.
Add more layers every few weeks if needed throughout the year
Since organic mulch will naturally decompose into the soil it’s important to continue to spread mulch and to add more layers throughout the year. This will provide your plants with nutrients as they decompose over time because it feeds beneficial microorganisms in the soil.
If you have areas that are too shady for plants, you can apply mulch as a good way to prevent weeds from growing and also help keep plant roots cooler during hot summer months and warmer in the winter. Since mulch provides excellent weed control, reduce or eliminate how often you use herbicides for weed control by applying mulch properly and watch your garden grow.
You can add up to four inches of compost in the spring to boost soil health
Although many people prefer applying mulch around their plants rather than turning the compost pile, there are times when it’s a good idea to mix up your mulch and compost. Adding compost in the spring when you plant will improve soil fertility and boost microorganism activity in the soil.
It’s important to note that this works well because whatever you add in the spring will decompose into the soil over time, so it does not interfere with planting or crop growth.
Creating a compost bed is simple when you have the right tools. Get a good compost turner and it’s never been more simple.
Now that you know how to mulch properly you’ll have happy plants and a happy garden
Mulch is an easy way to manage weeds and create a healthy environment for your plants and learning how to mulch properly is a great step. Now that you know how to mulch beds and lay mulch effectively you’ll have a beautiful thriving landscape and garden in no time.
Interested in more ways to help your vegetable garden? Check out more of our articles here.