How to do mulching

A layer of dry leaves covers the soil around ginger plants

Mulching is a simple and yet useful gardening technique. It is the practice of putting a layer of covering above the surface of soil, so that the soil is shielded and protected. The layer of covering is known as mulch. Mulch helps to conserve moisture in soil and suppress weeds. It also maintains the soil’s structure and regulates its temperature. Organic mulches enrich soil with nutrients and support soil microorganisms. Mulch can also help avoid direct contact of edible crops with soil. It is used for decorative purposes as well.

There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches are made up of formerly living materials. They will eventually decompose and need to be replaced regularly. However, organic mulches will improve structure and organic content of soil underneath. Some examples of organic mulches are wood chippings, shredded leaves and newspaper sheets. Inorganic mulches such as plastic sheets and gravels do not require frequent replacing, but they will not add any nutrient to the soil.

Granite chippings can be used to pave the walkway of the garden

There are several tips for using mulch. First, keep the mulch at 5 to 7 cm thick. You need to have a certain amount of mulch to protect the soil effectively. However, when the mulch is too thick, it absorbs all the moisture and prevents water from reaching the soil underneath. This is detrimental to the surrounding plants as their roots will not be able to absorb water.

Second, make sure the stem and roots of trees and shrubs are not in direct contact with the mulch. Otherwise, the plants may rot due to high humidity. Also, since mulch creates a moist and dark environment, it may attract pest insects that damage plants. Therefore, try to leave an empty circle, with a radius of 15 cm, around the tree or shrub.

Mulching requires little maintenance. However, if you are using organic mulch, you have to add new mulch consistently as the mulch will eventually disintegrate. Sometimes, weeds may sprout if the mulch contains seeds or the soil was not weeded properly before mulching. Remove the weeds by hand if you spot any of them.

Organic mulch will slowly decompose and disappear.

The mulch may harden as time goes by. You will need to rake and loosen the hardened mulch so that it becomes functional again. If you are using lightweight materials for mulching, create an outer edge or border around the mulch to keep it from spreading by wind or rainwater.

Mulching is a low-cost and effective way to conserve soil. You can experiment with different materials to find the mulch that is most suitable for your garden. Have fun!

Case Study Series

Case Study Series: Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

A panoramic view of Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is a community garden in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. It is on a small, linear piece of land flanked by houses on both sides. The community garden was initiated by Ng Seksan, a landscape architect, back in 2013. It took the founding team several years to get permission from authorities to use the land. As the team built the garden, it received funds from nearby residents and Think City, a Malaysia-based organisation that aims to make cities more people-friendly, resilient and liveable.

Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is managed and maintained by volunteers. It is open daily to the public, and no admission fee is charged. The garden is planted with vegetables, fruits and herbs that are given to underprivileged groups including refugees, orphanages and homeless people. It is equipped with walkways, chairs and tables to allow visitors to enjoy the garden comfortably. There are also farm animals such as geese, ducks, chickens, sheep and cows, and visitors can buy feed for them.

Since the garden is a non-profit initiative, it was sustained solely by the donations at first. After the animals were introduced, the garden tried to generate additional income by selling animal feed to visitors. This soon has become an important financial resource.

Planting plots full of vegetables
People feeding the farm animals

Success Factors of a Community Garden

As it approaches its third year, Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is gaining popularity among the public. Not only has it become a tourist hotspot, it also inspires other urban communities to create such spaces in their residential areas.

Here are some of the success factors that keep the garden moving forward.

The garden serves as a great place for learning and sharing information. Because of its strategic location, urban dwellers can reach Kebun-Kebun Bangsar easily and meet others who share an interest in farming. There are also experts and organisations that can provide guidance and support in planting crops.

Two young volunteers helping with maintenance work at the garden

Volunteering at Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is a fulfilling and meaningful experience. The garden grows food for needy people. All produce is given free to soup kitchens or welfare agencies so that underprivileged communities can have the chance to eat fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. 

The garden is friendly to visitors of all ages. Children love to play with the animals. They also enjoy exploring different parts of the garden. Adults are charmed by pretty flowers, the tranquil atmosphere and picturesque scenery.

A plot that demonstrates paddy planting. Visitors, including children, can learn how to grow food in the garden.

Challenges and Solutions

Managing a community garden is not without its trials, and the garden has its share of technical and operational challenges. As Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is community-based, it relies largely on volunteers to operate and function. Getting sufficient hands is challenging as volunteers tend to come and go. Therefore, finding new and dedicated volunteers is an ongoing issue for sustaining the garden.

Then, while the farm animals were generally popular, at one point, there were complaints from neighbouring residents who were bothered by the noise and smells produced by the animals. Kebun-Kebun Bangsar was ordered to remove them, and the farm animals were then relocated to a different section of the garden.

A cow tethered and kept at the garden.

Finally, Kebun-Kebun Bangsar practices organic farming, so volunteers have to put extra care into cultivating plants. They need to think of alternative solutions to chemicals when the plants are attacked by pests or diseases. This requires technical advice and support to ensure successful gardening. 

Making a Community Garden Sustainable

Sustaining a community garden is not easy. It is important to have a core group of volunteers that are willing to help and complement one another. Each volunteer has his or her own strength. Some are good at planting, some help to attract new visitors, and others contribute money, time and/or energy to maintain the garden. Then there are the people who manage and coordinate volunteering works.  

Events and activities help secure financial resources and attract potential volunteers. Before Movement Control Orders (MCO), Kebun-Kebun Bangsar held fundraising concerts and workshops that taught composting, planting and organic farming. People who attended the events would get a chance to know the garden and eventually become regular visitors, volunteers or funders. The garden also serves as an event space to organise gatherings, potlucks and meetings.   

The fundraising concert poster

The garden is ever-evolving. There are always new projects coming up. For example, the herb garden and pizza oven are some of the recent works contributed by volunteers. Such dynamic is a key factor that keeps people visiting the garden again and again for new experiences.

Visitors at the herb garden of Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

A garden like Kebun-Kebun Bangsar demonstrates creative use of green spaces in cities. It is a place where urban dwellers can form communities and connect with the environment.

Species Guide: Craft Plants


A coconut palm with its feather-like leaves and straight, upright trunk. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Coconut Palm

Malay name: Kelapa, Nyiur

Scientific name: Cocos nucifera

Conservation status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A palm tree that reaches 30 m tall. It is crowned by large, feather-like leaves. Stem is straight, unbranched, have rings of scar. It bears small, clustered flowers and roundish fruits which turn from light green or yellow to brown when ripe.

Habit: Perennial tree

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds

Ecological function: The flowers of this plant attract insect pollinators. It is host plant of many butterflies and moths e.g. Hidari irava (coconut skipper) and Tirathaba rufivena (coconut spike moth). As this plant produces flowers and fruits all year round, it provides a stable source of food for wildlife.

Pollinator: Wind, insects

Soil: Sand, loam, clay, organic soils

Moisture: Moist, well-drained soils. It is drought-tolerant.

Shade: No shade

Use in crafting: The leaves of this plant are used as thatching materials or in making baskets and mats. Malay community uses the leaves to make ketupat, a traditional rice-based dish that is usually prepared for festive seasons.

A bunch of cooked ketupat wrapped in woven coconut leaves. Photo credit: Meutia Chaerani, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other use: The coconut milk that is processed from the freshly grated flesh has been traditionally used in Asian culinary. Coconut husks can be used as mulch to fertilise soil and conserve moisture. Coconut oil can be used for cooking or in manufacture of margarine, confectioneries, soaps and cosmetics. Coconut palm wood is suitable for making furniture, household utensils and tool handles.

Species Guide: Craft Plants


The long, shiny leaves of pandan. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Screwpine

Malay name: Pandan

Scientific name: Pandanus amaryllifolius

Conservation status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A shrub or small tree with long, slightly pleated leaves. Leaves are fragrant and spirally arranged.

Habit: Perennial shrub

Cultivation: It is planted by stem cuttings & suckers (side shoots that emerge from the base of a plant)

Ecological function: It is a host plant for moth caterpillars. It provides shelter for small vertebrates.

Pollinator: No data

Soil: Fertile loamy soils

Moisture: Well-drained soils

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

Use in crafting: The leaves of this plant are chopped and mixed with flowers to make potpourris. People weave the leaves into baskets and sleeping mats.

Other use: The leaves are used as food containers. People also use them to colour and flavour dishes or beverages. An essential oil extracted from the leaves has insect-repellent activity.

Species Guide: Craft Plants


White flowers of inai plant. Dinesh Valke from Thane, India, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Common name: Henna Tree, Egyptian Privet

Malay name: Inai

Scientific nameLawsonia inermis

Conservation Status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A shrub or small tree that reaches 2-6 m in height. Stem is slender and much-branched. Old branches can be spiny. It bears small, white, fragrant, clustered flowers. Fruits are round and brown in colour.

Habit: Perennial shrub or tree

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds, cuttings or air-layering

Ecological function: The fruits of this plant are eaten by birds. It is used as a hedge plant. It provides shade. It is used for erosion control.

Pollinator: Self-pollinating

Soil: Sandy soils. It tolerates clay and stony soils.

Moisture: Fertile, well-drained or dry soil. Mature plants are drought-tolerant.

Shade: No shade

Use in crafting: The leaves of this plant are used to colour fingernails and to paint or decorate palms of hands and soles of feet. It is also used for hair-dyeing. The fibres of branches and stem bark are used to make baskets.

Other use: The flowers of this plant are used in perfumery. Its wood is used for fuel. This plant is used as an ornamental plant for its fragrant flowers.

Species Guide: Craft Plants Species Guide: Plants for Food


A jelai plant. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Job’s Tears

Malay name: Jelai

Scientific name: Coix lacryma-jobi

Conservation status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A grass that reaches 1-2 m tall. It produces tear-shaped false fruits that enclose the grains, giving the name of this plant. The false fruits turn from black to grayish white when mature. Leaves are linear or lance-shaped.

The black, bead-like false fruit of jelai plant. Photo by Siti Syuhada

Habit: Perennial grass

Cultivation: It is planted by seed-containing flowering bracts, cuttings or rhizomes.

Ecological function: It is a moth host plant. The moth caterpillar feed on leaves of this plant. The plant provides nesting material for birds. It is used in agroforestry system especially in highlands. It is used for wastewater treatment.

Pollinator: Wind

Soil: Fertile loamy soils

Moisture: Moist, well-drained soils

Shade: No shade

Use in crafting: The hard-shelled false fruits are used as ornamental beads for jewelry, rosaries or decoration for clothing. In Africa, there is a musical instrument known as shaker gourd. It consists of a net of false fruits loosely wrapped around a hollow gourd. When the net is slapped against the gourd, it produces a rhythmic sound.

Other use: The seeds of this plant can be used as a rice substitute.

Species Guide: Common Fruit Trees

Limau Kasturi

An unripe fruit of limau kasturi. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Calamondin Orange

Malay name: Limau Kasturi

Scientific nameCitrus × microcarpa

Conservation Status: Cultivated, Naturalised, Introduced (China)


A medium-sized shrub or small tree that grows up to 3-4 m tall. Leaves are egg-shaped and aromatic. The upperside of leaves is dark green while the underside of leaves is pale green. Stems are slightly thorny. Bear white, fragrant, five-petaled flowers. Fruits are small and round, turn from green to light orange when ripe.

A limau kasturi plant. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Habit: Perennial shrub or tree

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds

Ecological function: The flowers of this plant attract pollinators. It is a caterpillar food plant.

Pollinator: Bees, insects

Soil: Sand, loam, clay, organic soils

Moisture: Moist, well-drained, fertile soils

Shade: No shade, partial shade

Use: Its fruits are eaten raw or cooked. The fruit peel is preserved and used as food flavouring.

Species Guide: Common Nitrogen-Fixing Plants

Sunn Hemp

Sunn hemp plants with their green, narrow leaves. Photo by Khim Joe

Common name: Sunn Hemp

Malay name: 

Scientific name: Crotalaria juncea

Conservation status: Cultivated, Naturalised, Introduced (India)


An evergreen shrub that grows up to 2.5 m tall. It has a straight stem and hairy branches. Leaves are narrow and spirally arranged. It bears yellow, pea-like flowers and short, puffy seedpods.

A patch of leafy sunn hemp. Photo by Khim Joe
Note the yellow flowers of sunn hemp. Photo by Khim Joe

Habit: Annual shrub

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds

Ecological function:  This plant is used as green manure. It is planted as a cover crop to suppress weeds. It fixes nitrogen in soil. Its flowers attract pollinators.

Pollinator: Bees, insects

Soil: Sand, loam, clay

Moisture: Moist, well-drained soils. Established plants are drought-tolerant

Shade: No shade

Use: Edible (leaf, flower), fibre (paper, string, fishing net)

Species Guide: Common Nitrogen-Fixing Plants


A moringa plant with its spreading, pagoda-like crown.

Common name: Moringa, Drumstick Tree, Horseradish Tree

Malay name: Gemunggai, Kacang Kelor, Remunggai

Scientific name: Moringa oleifera Lam.

Conservation status: Least concern, Cultivated, Naturalised, Introduced (India)


A small, fast-growing tree that grows 8-10 m tall. Tree crown is umbrella-shaped. Leaves are divided into many small leaflets that move in the slightest breeze. It bears white, sweet-scented flowers. Fruits are long, pointed and three-sided.

Habit: Perennial shrub or tree

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds or cuttings

Ecological function:  This plant is planted for erosion control and soil improvement. It is used as living fence, windbreak, shade tree and support for climbing plants. As it is fast growing, it is a good pioneer species for reforestation. Its flowers attract pollinators.

Pollinator: Bees, sunbirds

Soil: Sand, loam, clay

Moisture: Well-drained, fertile soils

Shade: No shade

Use: Edible (flower, seed, seedpod, leaf), seed oil (perfumery, soap-making, lubricant for watches and other fine machinery), ornamental

Species Guide: Common Nitrogen-Fixing Plants Uncategorized

Kacang Hias

Reinhart Sulaiman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Common name: Pinto Peanut, Yellow Peanut Plant

Malay name: Kacang hias, Kacang Pintoi

Scientific name: Arachis pintoi

Conservation status: Cultivated, Naturalised, Introduced (South America)


A low, creeping plant that forms a dense, ground-hugging mat. Leaves are divided into egg-shaped leaflets. It bears yellow, pea-like flowers.

Habit: Perennial herbaceous plant

Cultivation: It is planted by seeds or cuttings

Ecological function: This plant can be used as a groundcover. It fixes nitrogen in soil. Its flowers attract pollinators.

Pollinator: Insects

Soil: Sand, loam, clay. It tolerates poor soils and high levels of aluminium and manganese.

Moisture: Moist, well-drained soils

Shade: No shade, semi-shade, full shade

Use: Ornamental