Every year, the US spends $1 billion on mulch for landscaping, gardening, and erosion projects.
But are Americans using mulch the wrong way? You wouldn’t think there’s much of a science to laying mulch – hasn’t Mother Nature been in charge of natural mulching for years now?
Yet it’s a little more complicated when humans get involved. If you lay mulch incorrectly, you can suffocate plant roots and deprive new seedlings of much-needed water and nutrients.
Used correctly, mulch can prevent weed germination, retain moisture in the soil, hold soil in place against natural erosion on a hill or slope, and support the maintenance of natural soil temperatures. As it decays further, mulch also turns into humus for topsoil.
There’s an art to laying mulch and ultimately reaping its rewards.
Mulch is composed of many different materials, some synthetic, some organic. Gardening enthusiasts, land conservationists, and landscapers alike will use a layer of mulch for trees and new seedlings.
Mulch from natural, organic materials, makes use of recycled yard waste and helps you be truly sustainable with your gardening practices.
If you buy your mulch from an external provider, you can use it as a decorative addition to your garden or yard because it can come in different colors and adds texture to your property.
The most common uses of mulch are:
– To help prevent the soil from compacting
– To encourage the presence of natural aerators like earthworms
– To add nutrients to the availability of potassium, contributing to the build-up of nitrogen, phosphorus, and trace elements to the soil
There are two types of mulch: Synthetic and organic. Each has applications and benefits.compost
Inorganic stones are okay for lining and accentuating soil beds, while organic compost is specifically meant for soil that is severely lacking in nutrients.
Organic mulches are ideal for situations in which you’re trying to improve soil structure and provide a more natural and stimulating environment for root growth.
Good root growth guarantees healthy leaf and top growth, so any of these natural mulches are useful if you’re planting trees in nutrient-poor soil:
– Wood chips (a mix of fine and coarse material composted for at least three months)
– Pine needles
– Peat moss
– Hulls from buckwheat or cocoa beans
– Lawn clippings
Once you lay the organic mulch, make sure you don’t disturb its natural decomposition with annual flower plantings. And if you’re going to use woody or bark-based mulches, use them around trees or flower beds because you won’t be doing frequent digging in these areas.
Lighter mulch like straw is great to work into the soil and can be spread around, so it’s fine for vegetable gardens since you’ll be harvesting and uprooting plants.
Pro-tip: While geotextiles are an excellent solution for soil erosion control, don’t place these fabrics under the mulch. The naturally-decomposing mulch won’t mix with the soil, and they also won’t prevent weeds as they will poke right through the fabric.
Synthetic or inorganic mulch is more decorative than restorative. Small river rocks, ground tires (rubber), volcanic rock, and even synthetic fabrics are common synthetic options.
Rubber is particularly useful for areas where children will be playing or areas that receive a lot of foot traffic.
Whether organic or inorganic, mulch has a variety of uses. Its inherent sustainability and eco-friendliness make it the right additive to most soils. Here are five clear benefits you can experience by using mulch:
Mulch has much to contribute to a land’s growth and stabilization.
It’s used as natural binding agent for soil and can prevent it from drying out or running off. It’s also useful for helping the soil to recover from the after-effects of clearing and disturbing due to nearby construction.
The sheer variety of mulch types and applications makes it a flexible option.
What’s even better is that mulch naturally protects against changing weather conditions. Without mulch, the soil stays cool all day long in the winter and becomes much too hot and dry in the summer.
When you use mulch to protect your soil, it preserves moisture in the summer, while also trapping any heat through a sunny winter day.
You can use mulch together with compost and apply this mixture to the soil. Take care not to overdo it, or you’ll strangle new plantings trying to germinate.
However, the combination of compost and mulch naturally decomposes and provides nutrients for these delicate, fast-growing seedlings.
Before you can apply a layer of mulch, you’ll need to de-weed. Otherwise, you’re just feeding those weeds.
But once weeding is complete, you can spread your mulch and simply water the area. As this matter breaks down and brings heft to the soil, it also suppresses weeds from coming up once again — making it easier to keep your landscape clean.
When you apply mulch properly, your soil can retain moisture much more effectively. Since 80% of all rainwater evaporates quickly, mulch will help trap this natural irrigation.
In turn, this helps support plants near your mulch, which can yield a high rate of growth. And since the soil is more temperature regulated, your plants are protected from seasonal weather changes in early spring or late fall.
If you’ve ever seen the so-called mulch volcano piled around the base of a tree, you should know that this promotes decay of the bark rather than bring any real benefit to soil composition below.
Where did this practice come from? Piling mulch at the bottom of a tree finds its roots in a truly beneficial method, which is more like a mulch circle.
The mulch should be spread in a “three-three-three” formula: three feet in diameter, three inches thick, and ordered in a ring formation, three inches away from the trunk. This traps water and holds it in place much like a saucer, which then feeds the soil around the base of the trunk.
– Don’t disturb the mulch once you’ve applied it – this may end up disrupting the growing process and drying out the roots below
– Block off two points for application in your gardening calendar: Once during the early spring, once the ground has thawed, and once during the fall, once the ground is cold
– Mounding mulch around a tree’s trunk is a big no-no because this can cause bark rot and pest problems
– Don’t over-apply mulch as this can suffocate your soil and plants instead of supporting them
If you stick to these tips and methods of application, mulch will provide some awesome benefits for your soil’s long-term health. Since we’re losing 1% of topsoil each year, you might feel proud knowing that you’re contributing to sustainable landscaping practices.
At Granite Seed Co, we see mulch as both a restorative planting aid and a sustainable form of erosion control. Find out more about how you can incorporate smarter, more natural solutions to your land or home garden project today.
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