Want to garden with less work? Here’s my simple one step process to less work in the garden – add more mulch. There is no hidden snark or even puny garden geek humor here, mulching really is that much of a labor savor. I’ve always believed gardening is part art and part science. I’ve heard and read so many myths and mysteries surrounding questions about bark mulch in gardens that I’m convinced sound science has left many internet garden sites! Mulching is without a doubt the easiest step to any successful garden. It’s good for your back, it’s good for your soils and it’s great for your plants. Yes, I love mulch!
I can’t remember a spring season where I didn’t write a blog or article about mulch. It’s really that important to me! This year I’ve put together a compilation of all my great garden mulching advice. To keep it organized, I’ve set this up as a Question and Answer. I’ve included the most common questions we get every single spring.
Q. What is the purpose of using mulch in the garden?
A. Mulch serves several purposes. It will not just suppress weeds and slow moisture evaporation, but should also break down into the underlying soil gradually and thereby improve the soil’s texture. A layer of mulch helps moderate soil temperatures. Mulch serves as a buffer from soil compaction caused by rain and helps prevent the crusting-over of bare soil that can sometimes prevent moisture from being absorbed.
Q. What makes good mulch?
A. This can be very confusing, particularly because what’s sold as “mulch” in many cases isn’t really very suitable for most of the garden tasks I specified above. In short, your mulch needs to be; An organic substance (meaning deriving from some living or formerly living matter)
Fine- to medium-textured so it will break down into the underlying soil, but substantial enough to stay put for the season and most importantly it needs to be free from contaminants and chemical treatments. I know that’s a long list of requirements for what I would label as good mulch, but do not fear, all the mulches we sell fit the bill!
Q. When do I apply it and how much should I use?
A. I mulch my perennial and shrub beds every spring, but not until after the soil has a chance to warm and dry a bit. The only damage you could do by mulching is working in a wet garden. When your garden soil is wet it’s easy to compact it just by working around the area. Patience, as in many garden tasks, is critical here. Wait until the soil has dried out before you venture forth pitchfork in hand.
Q. How much mulch do I need?
A. You want a 2 or 3-inch layer. If you use a good mulch, about half of it will break down and work into the underlying soil before you need to replenish in fall or the next spring. If you need some help figuring out how much to order, we have some helpful hints on our website under Bark Mulch.
Keep the mulch a couple of inches away from trunks of trees and shrubs; never pile it up, volcano-like, against them, as that is a surefire way to invite pests and diseases. Over mulching volcano style can even stunt growth on many trees.
Q. Do I have to move the mulch before I fertilize?
A. If you use a mulch that has a good texture you don’t need to remove it to fertilize. I simply “topdress”my beds with a natural organic fertilizer like Espoma Plant Tone right on top of last year’s mulch then add my fresh mulch on top. You can easily add fertilizer right on top of good bark mulch any time of the year.
A good mulch will break down and improve the soil below it. I don’t mean it breaks down in a week or a month, but over the course of a season or two.
If you have a thick layer of mulch that’s not breaking down nicely, and the layer is just getting thicker and thicker each year, rake some away and then add your amendments like compost and fertilizer and start using a new, better-quality mulch this year on top of that.
Q. Will mulch prevent weeds?
A. Mulch won’t stop weeds completely but it will cut down on them significantly. A 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch will prevent many weed seeds already in the soil from germinating and growing. Unfortunately more weed seeds will blow in throughout the summer so I often use an organic weed preventer like Johnathan Green’s Corn Gluten in any garden where I have herbs and vegetables or a non organic weed preventer like Jonathan Green’s Weed Screen in my big perennial and shrub beds. I spread the preventer after I’ve finished applying the mulch and then water it in to keep it in place. Mulch works wonders, but all gardens require maintenance — but considerably less if you use mulch than if you don’t!
Take our spring pledge to spend more time enjoying your yard and less time working in it by adding more mulch! We are delivering mulch 7 days a week right now! You can order online or call us at the store 978-342-3770 to set up your delivery!
Michelle and all the Plant Geeks at Lakeview!