Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Green Gardening Tip - Mulching

It's spring ... and for many of us, that means heading outside to the garden. We start vegetable and herb gardens ... we plant trees, flowers and shrubs. Whatever one plans to grow, spring seems to be the perfect time to get started because, for the most part, temperatures are warm without being too hot and rainfall is adequate for root growth.

Then we move into summer, with long, hot days and little or no rainfall ... and our plants and trees, now well established, begin to require more attention. They require more water, more protection from pests, and more fertilizer. Sure, we can spend every day watering ... we can buy pesticides to control critters ... and we can spend a lot of money on fertilizers. Or, we can use natural materials to handle it all ... we can mulch.

Mulching is simply placing a layer of organic material around plants. You'll notice that I said "organic". There are non-organic mulches on the market such as black plastic, landscape fabric, etc. While these man-made materials might keep weeds out of a garden, they don't do anything to enrich the soil. Organic mulch slowly decomposes providing important nutrients for plants and creating an ideal environment for earthworms and other organisms which help enrich the soil. It also protects the soil from erosion, prevents weed growth, conserves soil moisture, stabilizes soil temperature, reduces compaction, encourages root growth, and keeps any fruits or vegetables, which touch the ground, clean and dry (preventing rot and/or disease). This means less watering, less fertilizing and less chance that destructive critters will harm your plants. Best of all ... it's Eco-friendly.

Organic mulch materials include dry grass clippings (from grass which hasn't been treated with weed killer or other chemicals), broken dry leaves, straw or hay, shredded hardwood, sawdust, pine needles and wood chips. Many of these items are readily available from our own yards. Other sources include local farmers and feed stores ... they often are more than happy to get rid of old hay and straw. If there is a saw mill around, check with them for inexpensive sawdust.

Applying the mulch is easy. Once the plants are established (4-5 inches tall) and the soil is warm, mulch can be applied. First, remove any weeds. Then, water the garden well (or wait until after a rain). Place a layer of mulch around the plants. For most mulches, a 2-4 inch layer is sufficient ... dry leaves (which have been broken up to prevent matting) should be about 6 inches deep. Adding too thick of a layer may smother the plants ... so start with a couple of inches and then, throughout the growing season as the mulch breaks down, add more material to the top.

Once the growing season is over, mulch can be worked into the soil or just left on the surface to decay naturally. Either way, it'll continue to nourish the soil.

Mulch cools, protects and enriches the soil ... and for most of us, is readily available on our property. What once was something to haul away each spring, becomes a beneficial ingredient to successful gardening. Now that's what I call brilliant re-purposing.

As always ... I'd love to hear from you!


  1. Thanks for the reminder! Our plants are doing well now, but we have had several days with afternoon thunderstorms, rain, and afternoon/evening temps in the mid-50s. All that rain is going to wash away my soil and compost. Soon it will be time to mulch...

  2. Just popping by (nice place ya have here by the way) to let you know that Jane! from Emptying The Nest will be guest blogging tomorrow--and I know you will have missed her as much as I have.
    Her guest post will be here:
    please come and say hello to her-maybe we can get her to come back like blogging. Kind of like bringing a box of wine to the intervention.

  3. I have a compost bin and I was able to completely fill my planter box which is almost 6 ft long with compost from my own bin this year!

    On the sawdust issue. You need to make sure that the sawdust is not from pressure treated wood. The chemicals used in treating wood can harm your plants so make sure and ask first!

  4. You know, I never thought of mulching my new Michelle Obama honorary organic veggie patch! Great idea! Next time I mow my tiny tiny patch of grass I'll spread the clipping around any plants that are big enough, instead of putting them in the compost pile. Thanks!!

  5. Stopped by to say Hi. My garden is doing ok Mr. woodchuck is well fed or the garden would be doing even better. At least he isn't eating the strawberries. Will do more mulching thanks for the reminder

  6. Good tip, thanks for the reminder as it is just about the time I should doing just that.

    Have a great day,

  7. Our "container garden" (a.k.a. a lot of pots on the patio of our apartment building) is partly mulched by the leaves & flowers that naturally fall from the building's azaleas and rhododendrons onto the patio. I just sweep and dump; they don't seem to have harmed my herbs, tomatoes and sunflowers. The unmulched pots have a little ring of dirt from the soil that gets kicked up when the rain falls; the mulched pots seem to retain their soil much better.

    I also mulch with discarded cut flowers (chopping them up well of course). There's no sense throwing away that boquet!