With the hot and dry we have been experiencing the past few weeks, all our gardens are literally feeling the heat. One of the easiest and simplest methods to help our gardens through this extreme weather unscathed is by mulching. Mulching basically means covering the top of the soil with an organic or inorganic material that acts as a barrier between the soil and the harsh outside conditions. The benefits of mulching are plentiful and one will definitely see the difference in the garden.
Benefits of mulching
- Prevents weed seed from germinating
- Reduces evaporation thus conserving water
- Keeps microbes and other life happy and healthy
- Mulched gardens don’t need digging or working fresh soil into the ground
- Mulching feeds the garden as it breaks down
- Mulching prevents a crust forming on top of the soil thus keeping soil erosion to a minimum
- Keeps plants roots cool during summer and snug during winter
The amazing thing about mulch is that every year nature gives us a bounty of leaves during autumn that we can use. Spread the leaves on top of the soil or use them in the compost heap. Living mulches are plants that spread and cover the ground thus having the same effect as other mulches by conserving water. Using a living mulch allows you to brighten up an area and introduce different colours and textures whilst having all the benefits of mulching. Where possible try and use indigenous groundcovers. Some examples of mulches are:
- Bark and wood chips
- Dried grass cuttings
- Leaf mulch
- Nutshells and peach pips
- Pine needles
- Rooibos mulch
- Shredded newspaper
- Plastic sheeting
- River sand
- Asparagus fern
- Hen and chicken
- Kingfisher daisy
- Mondo grass
- And many others
Supplement mulching with a slow release fertilizer as some of the microbes that help to break down the mulch use quite a bit of nitrogen to break the mulch down. Pine needles increase the acidity of the soil, making it ideal for use as mulch around acid-loving plants. Dried grass clippings shouldn’t be applied too thick as it will rot instead of decomposing-try and aim for a layer no thicker than 2cm.
How to apply mulch
Lightly rake the area that you want to cover with mulch to ensure that it is even and level. The thickness at which you apply your mulch depends on the density of the mulch. With a dense mulch such as compost or dried grass clippings, a 2-5cm layer is more than enough whereas a mulch like bark chips needs to be applied thicker, around 5-7cm. As organic mulches break down they need to be replenished. Compost, for instance, breaks down faster than bark chips. Remember to mulch your pots and containers as they dry out faster than the garden beds. Always leave a small gap (2-3cm) around the trunk and stems of a plant to prevent possible stem rot.
Mulching is a great time and money saver in the garden with innumerable benefits. Using mulch will allow you to spend more time on the tasks you want to do instead of watering and weeding the whole time. Let Mother Nature take out all the guesswork in gardening for you.