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.
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.
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!