Mulch Magic In Your Garden
Mulching your veggie garden can be an important tool for success and June is a great month to do it as your plants have started to get established and the heat of summer is beginning to creep up on us which means water conservation in the garden is becoming important. Not only to save water but to also save effort on your part… mulching can slow down evaporation and keep your plants root zone moist longer and a bit cooler, too.
While you might traditionally think of mulch as wood chips or leaves, mulch is actually anything that covers the soil in your garden. Even rocks and creeping plants can act as mulch.
Mulching protects soil, conserves water, controls weeds, can help prevent disease and can build new soil. Mulch is also an important part of protecting perennial plants from major temperature fluctuations in the winter. It can keep soil several degrees warmer and reduce weather related stress. (We’ll be talking more about keeping perennials happy over the winter later in the season…)
And honestly, a good mulch layer just makes your garden look it’s best.
Mulch effectively helps the gardener mimic the natural world where bare soil never stays bare for long. And that means one of the big benefits is that mulch controls weeds. Where soil is bare weed seeds can get enough sun and soil to grow and compete with your plants for resources. Mulch reduces the amount of weeds that can grow and when combined with hand pulling it can be a very effective weed control strategy.
We can all agree adding mulch to your garden plan makes sense. Read on to learn more about some different types of mulch and when they might be appropriate for your space!
Types of Mulch
Biodegradable mulch such as shredded leaves, straw and grass clippings can help build soil. These mulches are a favorite of gardeners because they decompose over the season and contribute to building healthy soil with a high level of organic matter. And they are free (leaves, grass clippings) or inexpensive (straw). Biodegradable mulch is especially great for growing veggies. At City Grange we like straw as a no nonsense mulch that protects plants and looks great.
An important note… buy straw for your garden, not hay. Hay contains seeds which will become a nuisance (weeds) in your garden down the road. Straw is seed free. Trust us on this… we’ve learned the hard way.
Many people like to use burlap in addition to straw (or leaves or grass) to help keep the straw in place. The burlap, which is also biodegradable over time, keeps the straw from blowing away. Coffee bags are an excellent reuse instead of buying new garden burlap. We have a supply of used coffee bags (from Intelligentsia coffee) at both shops courtesy of our friends at Healthy Soils.
Less biodegradable mulch such as wood chips, shredded bark, or cocoa shells may also help build soil but as they break down much slower they provide less nutrients and may temporarily reduce the availability of nitrogen in soil for plants. These types of mulches are great for perennial food plants, trees, and shrubs. They also look great as borders or pathways. And, please note, although it smells fantastic, mulch made out of cocoa shells is toxic to dogs.
Alternative mulches such as stone or creeping plants also have a place in many gardens. First of all, they provide the same weed suppression and water conservation benefits of all mulches with the benefit of additional style. Some minor drawbacks are the stone can make it hard to access and amend soil if needed and creeping plants may not look great year round. But that doesn’t mean these different ways of mulching can’t find a home in your garden.
If you’re determined to buy mulch in a bag, make sure it does double duty. We carry a product called OneStep which not only mulches to make your garden look great but it also contains compost to help condition the soil for next year.
No matter what way you choose to mulch it’s clear there are some obvious benefits. Add this technique to your new gardener repertoire to ensure gardening success for years to come.