Mulching is an essential step in any garden. It provides protection from the sun, keeps the soil moist, and creates a living environment for beneficial microorganisms that will break down organic matter into nutrients for your plants.
However, it’s easy to mulch incorrectly and end up with dry brown spots around your plants or weeds growing through your mulch. Here, we tell you all we know on how to mulch properly for a healthy garden and improved soil.
Only Use Organic Mulches
Ensure you only use organic mulches like straw, hay, or leaves. The best types of mulch are organic. This means they are made of matter that was once alive, like leaves, grass clippings, or straw. Inorganic mulch usually comprises processed wood products and may contain pesticides or other chemicals. Some sources even report inorganic mulch can be difficult to remove from the soil after decomposing because the chemicals bond with the soil particles.
Using organic mulch helps heal your soil and makes it more nutrient-dense for your plants.
1. Improve Soil Health Over Time
Organic mulches improve the soil’s health over time as mulches contain decaying leaves, bits of plants, and organic matter that are slowly decomposing. This releases nutrients into the soil that are then available for your plants to use. If you choose a non-organic mulch, make sure it is made from pine needles or wood chips. These decompose quickly and release nutrients into the soil just as mulches do.
2. Beneficial to Microorganisms
Organic mulch feeds beneficial microorganisms. When you first apply your organic mulch, sprinkle it with a teaspoon of humic acid. This is especially important if you are using new wood chips for non-organic mulch. It provides the microorganisms with carbon, which encourages them to multiply. This improves soil health by making nutrients available for your plants and increasing the number of organisms that keep your garden healthy by preying on pests or feeding beneficial insects.
3. Avoid Pest Promoting Mulches
If you use hay for your mulch, avoid hay with alfalfa, as it will attract aphids. Alfalfa hay will attract whiteflies, small but pesky bugs that suck sap from plants. You can buy hay without alfalfa, which is a great mulch for vegetable gardens because it provides nutrients to the soil as it decomposes over time.
Applying Mulch to Your Garden
Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch over an area about 3 feet wide and long to ensure it’s evenly distributed.
How much mulch is where most people get it wrong. If you don’t cover the soil with enough mulch, weed seeds will sprout through it. On the other hand, if you put too much mulch down, your plants may suffocate and die because their roots aren’t getting any oxygen or nutrients.
So, how much mulch do you need? The ideal application is a 2-inch thick layer of mulch that covers the soil completely and is three feet wide and long. Learning how to mulch properly makes a huge difference to your harvest.
1. Avoid the Tree Trunks
Keep mulch away from tree trunks, as they need airflow to help them grow healthy and strong. If you have trees in your garden and landscaping, keep mulch at least 3 feet away from the base of tree trunks. This allows air to flow in, which is important for healthy tree growth.
2. Regular Maintenance is Required
Over time, mulch that’s applied too thickly or unevenly will collect around your plants, leaving bare soil if you don’t periodically pull it back. This creates the perfect environment for weeds to sprout, competing with your plants for nutrients and water.
You can solve this problem by spreading mulch back into the soil every few weeks while you’re watering or pulling it away from plant stems when you weed.
3. Spread Your Mulch Evenly
Spread out your mulch so that no piles or clumps are left untouched. Large mulch piles can suffocate plant roots and create a habitat for slugs. They can also create an uneven layer of mulch, so spreading mulch evenly over the soil is important—this also prevents weed growth.
Make sure you are spreading out any piles that accumulate over time. Then, smooth the mulch back into the soil with a rake or by hand. Look through any garden bed and ensure you don’t have old mulch pooling. Make sure you spread mulch around to have an even layer.
4. Don’t Forget Your Flower Beds
Using organic materials like straw and grass clippings as mulch isn’t limited to the vegetable garden bed. You can use it on your raised beds, flower beds, and the whole yard to benefit the plants and soil. Using this mulch on your flower beds results in a longer bloom.
Lay mulch on flower beds throughout the growing season, spreading mulch evenly through the bed to prolong the beauty of your flowers. You can even use a deep mulch bed for your other year-long landscaping to protect plant roots from deep freezes. Mulch flower beds year-round to protect bulbs and nourish the soil.
5. Wait Four Weeks to Begin Planting
Wait at least four weeks to plant seeds or plant new plants after adding mulch to your garden. There’s a general rule that you shouldn’t apply mulch until the ground has warmed and 4-6 weeks have passed since the last frost.
This is because mulch can inhibit weed growth, inhibiting the germination of any seeds you plant to replace them. If you apply mulch too soon, you’ll have a weed problem and a crop failure when your plantings begin to die off.
6. Add Mulch Layers as Needed
Monitor the mulch throughout the year to see if you need to add more layers.
Since organic mulch will naturally decompose into the soil, it’s important to continue to spread mulch and add more layers throughout the year. This will give your plants nutrients as they decompose over time because it feeds beneficial microorganisms in the soil.
If you have areas that are too shady for plants, you can apply mulch as a good way to prevent weeds from growing and also help keep plant roots cooler during hot summer months and warmer in the winter.
Since mulch provides excellent weed control, reduce or eliminate how often you use herbicides for weed control by applying mulch properly and watch your garden grow.
Compost Matters Too!
You can add up to four inches of compost in the spring to boost soil health. Although many people prefer applying mulch around their plants rather than turning the compost pile, there are times when it’s a good idea to mix up your mulch and compost. Adding compost in the spring when you plant will improve soil fertility and boost microorganism activity in the soil.
It’s important to note that this works well because whatever you add in the spring will decompose into the soil over time, so it does not interfere with planting or crop growth.
Creating a compost bed is simple when you have the right tools. Get a good compost turner, and it’s never been more simple.
Now that you know how to mulch properly, you’ll have happy plants and a happy garden.
Mulch is an easy way to manage weeds and create a healthy environment for your plants, and learning how to mulch properly is a great step. Now that you know how to mulch beds and lay mulch effectively, you’ll have a beautiful, thriving landscape and garden in no time.
Interested in more ways to help your vegetable garden? Check out more of our articles here.