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I’ve been using a lot of mulch in the garden this year. Like, a lot. With almost a quarter acre garden, it takes a lot to really make a difference. And I never seem to have enough! My main purpose for the mulch started out as weed control, but there are so many other benefits of using mulch in the garden.
I’m new to the art of using mulch in the garden, but I can tell you right now, I’ll always use it from now on. The difference between my non-mulched and mulched vegetables is staggering!
Mulch in the garden is most commonly used for weed control. Weeds love bare soil. Mulch helps smother the weeds by not allowing light to get into the soil.
All plants, including weeds, need sunlight to grow. If your layer of mulch is thick enough to block the light, the weeds won’t grow. This helps prevent weed seeds from germinating, which in turn, helps cut down on the amount of weeding you have to do.
If you have enough mulch down, you may not have to do ANY weeding at all. And if you do have a few weeds pop up, pulling them is so easy, since the soil below the mulch stays loose and moist.
Mulch is fantastic at holding in more moisture in the garden. I live in the high desert, and moisture retention is very important for hot, dry climates like mine. Mulch will help you reduce the amount of watering you have to do in your vegetable garden. It will also help your plants survive during a drought or a vacation.
Mulch also helps reduce evaporation. A mulched garden can hold up to 70% more moisture than an uncovered garden. Think of all the time and money you can save by reducing your watering times!
Regulates soil temperature
Mulch helps regulate soil temperature. It helps keep the soil cooler, since it doesn’t let the sun’s rays beat directly on the soil. And in cold weather, the soil will stay warmer with a layer of mulch. This helps protect your plants from temperature extremes better.
For me, in the high desert, this is another big benefit. Our soil gets so hot during our 90-100 degree days, and my plants suffer from it. Using mulch in the garden is a wonderful way of keeping the roots of the plants cooler.
Adds organic matter to the soil
Sandy and clay soil greatly benefit from having a layer of mulch added every year. Mulch helps add organic matter to the soil. Whether it is tilled in every year, or just left in place to break down, mulch will add valuable organic matter to your garden soil.
Keep in mind that wood mulches aren’t the best if you’re planning on tilling it into the soil. Non-decomposed wood actually ties up nitrogen in the natural decomposition process. So it will steal the nitrogen from the soil temporarily. Only use wood chips on top of the soil, as with the Back To Eden method of gardening.
Boosts the health of the soil
Organic mulches decompose over time, leaving behind beneficial nutrients and bacteria. This also helps introduce more organic matter into the soil. Organic matter is important for soil health, as it helps improve tilth and avoid compaction.
Mulch can also provide lots of hiding places for beneficial worms and bugs. Earthworm activity is greatly increased in soils that are protected by a nice layer of mulch. And earthworms are very good for your garden!
Reduces soil compaction
Clay soil, in particular, is prone to compaction. This compaction isn’t good for the soil or your plants. Compacted soil discourages strong root growth, and can negatively affect the size and shape of root vegetables. Roots need to dig deep into the soil for healthy plants, and it is made so much more difficult if the soil is hard and compacted.
My soil is sandy clay, and gets compacted very badly. I have a hard time growing carrots in it. I’ve learned that if I dig a deep trench and mix organic material into the soil, the carrots have an easier time growing down through it.
Soil is a rather delicate, living organism. It is susceptible to erosion from water and wind if left bare. A nice covering of mulch will protect your soil from erosion and displacement. This helps ensure that your topsoil stays put, which is important for soil health.
Protects plants from frost damage
Perennial plants and bulbs can be damaged by hard frosts. A thick layer of mulch applied in late fall will help protect the plants throughout the bitter cold winter. Mulch is used extensively when growing asparagus, which is a perennial plant that takes years to mature; and for growing garlic, which stays in the ground all winter and is harvested in the summer.
Makes the garden more attractive
Mulch in between plants gives a nice, tidy appearance in any garden. It adds texture and interest to the landscape. Bare soil is usually not very appealing to the eye, and weeds tend to be undesirable to look at. Using a nice, thick mulch, you can improve the look of your garden tremendously.
Are you going to mulch your garden?
Even with my limited experience with garden mulch, I’m convinced that mulch is best for my garden. I hope I’ve convinced you of the same. Are you going to mulch your garden?
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