First Things First, What is Mulch?
As the summer starts to wind down, it's time to think about preparing your garden for the cool months ahead. For many gardeners, that means mulching.
Mulch is a layer of organic material placed on top of the soil, such as grass clippings or bark chips, and has many applications. There are lots of reasons why fall mulching is a great idea wherever you are. Here are our top five:
1. Less Weeding
Some broadleaf weeds like dandelions and chickweed prefer to sprout during cool fall temperatures. Covering the surface of your soil with mulch is an effective and natural way to control the growth of unwanted weeds for two reasons. First, mulch prevents new weeds from germinating by eliminating contact with bare soil. Second, a thick layer of mulch deprives any existing weeds of the light needed to germinate. This can be especially effective against tenacious weeds that are hard to remove by pulling, such as crabgrass.
2. Less Watering
A layer of mulch helps retail soil moisture. Without mulch, much of the soil's moisture is lost through evaporation. When you keep the top layer of soil protected from direct sun with a layer of mulch, the water in the soil evaporates less. Keeping more of the moisture in the dirt means you’ll have to water less and it will create a better environment for your plants to grow.
3. Better Soil Health
As well as helping retain moisture, mulching helps to conserve nutrients and improve the condition of your soil by regulating the soil temperature. By keeping the soil from becoming too cold, mulching keeps the organisms living in the soil more active. These life-forms -- earthworms, microbes, soil-dwelling insects, and burrowing mammals -- make up the soil-food web. The more active they are, the better your soil will be in the spring.
4. Visual Appeal
In addition to the practical benefits of mulch, it can also be decorative. Virtually all mulch can give planting beds a well-manicured appearance. Shredded bark, natural or dyed, is an especially good choice for ornamental beds or other situations where you need a visually appealing mulch that won’t break down easily.
5. Control Pests and Diseases
Colder months can make plants weaker and more prone to disease. Mulching helps to protect your plants from the many pathogens that live in soil. A layer of mulch will regulate the environment and help to prevent fungus and bacteria from harming plants. As a preventative measure, we recommend treating plants with a citric-acid fungicide to fight off pathogens. It's useful for prevention and when paired with mulching, to regulate water and soil temperature, you will grow healthier plants. Depending on the type of mulch you use, mulch can protect plants from the depredations of slugs and snails too.
Types of Mulch
There are many types of mulch, both organic and inorganic:
- Organic: wood chips, nuggets, bark, straw, grass clippings, pine needles, shredded leaves, newspaper, cardboard, cocoa chips, composted animal manure
- Inorganic: rock, crusher dust, landscape plastic, fabric, rubber
Some recommendation are straw and fabric mulch. Straw mulch adds organic matter to the soil, lightening heavy soils and improving friability of sandy ones, ultimately improving soil health, biodiversity and resilience. As it breaks down, straw enriches the earth with more nutrients, while deterring pests and disease.
Fabric mulch is highly durable and long-lasting, and an excellent choice if you have large areas to cover. Thick, heavy fabric mulches are ideal if you wish to suppress weed growth, while lighter materials can be used as row covers to protect against frost.
Plan to lay down fall mulch after the first hard frost of the year. No matter your choice, aim for a layer of mulch roughly three inches deep and try to avoid over mulching. It’s common to see the “mulch volcano” around the base of trees and shrubs. Having too much mulch can lead to stress and root rot from too much moisture in the soil.
Fall mulching is a great way to get your garden into shape for next spring. With the help of Earth's Ally organic garden products, you'll be on your way to a successful growing season next year.
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