Good to grow: let’s talk about mulch | Gardening
Mulch was the topic of the week. It seems like everyone I know straws. I even do some mulching in the little house on a big hill. For me, this is the fastest, easiest way to bring instant curb appeal to your garden.
Not only does it tidy up the landscape, the mulch also helps retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. It will also help fight soil erosion.
There are several types of mulch and knowing the difference will help you determine which one is right for each garden spot.
Shredded bark is the most common. It’s often made from cedar or pine and breaks down quickly, which is a good thing; as it decomposes, it adds organic matter and improves the soil. Over time, you will notice a noticeable difference in the quality of the soil.
Chips and nuggetss are just that: parts of trees and bark cut into small pieces. The size can vary between mini and full size nuggets (think about the size of chicken nuggets). This mulch does not work well on slopes. When it rains, the nuggets tend to float. Due to their size, they will not break down as quickly; the bigger the chip, the longer it will last.
Straw mulch, in pieces or shredded, is traditionally used in vegetable gardens or beds of strawberries. Using straw helps keep mud away from vegetables and fruits. This keeps them clean and reduces the risk of disease from moisture on the leaves. When using straw, be careful not to add any weeds or seeds that might get mixed with the straw.
Wood chips use more nitrogen from the soil, this is not a problem for trees, shrubs and perennials that have deeper, more established roots. Vegetables tend to have shallow roots, and most are annuals or only live one season, so don’t make them compete for nutrients.
Compost is another organic choice for the top dressing. It will break down quickly, adding to the quality of your soil while providing a beautiful background for plants. Contact your local town – many have compost gifts in the spring.
Shredded leaves and cut grass can walk. Make sure they are shredded; otherwise, the wet leaves can form a layer of yuck over the garden. Shredded newspaper can also be used as mulch.
A few garden areas stand out in my mind as they used pea gravel or small stones as mulch. Some are in the movies, but one is the herb garden at WV State Fair Grounds. Wow, that is pretty. I liked it so much that I came home and used the stone as a mulch for my herbs. Full Disclosure: I grow most of my herbs in containers, but they are in an area of pea gravel. It’s a nice change and gives the area a distinction, maybe a little bit of glamor in my herb garden.
A few things about using stones as mulch: it’s more expensive; it does not decompose and does not add to the structure of the soil; and it can get hot and retain heat from the sun. I haven’t put a landscape fabric weed barrier (I’m not a fan) or newspaper underneath, so I’ve done weed control over the years. I add to rock every few years; I don’t really know where this is going, but I guess it has something to do with the lawn mower and the blower.
Organic mulch should be two to four inches thick. Applied heavier, the soil may not get its much needed oxygen. The thinner the pieces of mulch, the thinner the layer needed and with stone an inch is enough.
When starting a new bed, I use old newspapers (but, of course, not the garden column. You save them, right ?!) as a weed barrier under the mulch. It will smother weeds and go away over time. Mulch alone will help keep small weeds from growing but will not kill established weeds. Do this before you apply mulch.
I beg you; do not make “volcano” mulch around your tree. Give the tree trunk and plant stems room to breathe. Stacking the mulch against the trunk will again keep the moisture in the wood and invite diseases and insects.
Rubber mulch has had its moment on the playgrounds and claiming to be eco-friendly. It’s not. Rubber leaches chemicals from the soil.
If you are going to mulch, and I suggest you do, go for organic or stone. Your flower beds, paths and other spaces will reap the rewards. You will reap the oohs and ahhs of having a well-maintained garden.
Jane Powell is a longtime Master Gardener with the University of West Virginia Extension Service across the Kanawha County Chapter. She is communications director for a community foundation and volunteers with several non-profit organizations in the community. Find his blog “Gardening in pearls” on gardeninginpearls.com. You can contact her at email@example.com.