How to Mulch Your Plants

We often hear a lot about the importance of mulching our plants, trees and shrubs, but do we really know what that means, or even what mulch is? And do we really know how to do it properly? If you’re unsure about how to ‘mulch’ properly in your garden, this guide could lend you a helping hand!

What is mulch?

Mulch simply refers to a layer or loose coverings over cultivated soil. Mulch can be applied to both bare ground soil, or on soil in containers.

The benefits of mulching depend on what type you use, but possibilities include:

  • reducing weed growth
  • improving soil texture
  • protecting plant roots for extreme temperatures
  • deterring pests
  • helping soil to retain moisture

There are two different types of mulches: biodegradable and non-biodegradable.

Biodegradable mulches gradually release nutrients into the soil to encourage plant growth and, because it breaks down, will need replacing every so often. Garden compost, rotted manure, seaweed and straw are some of the best types of biodegradable mulch.

Non-biodegradable mulch are less useful for fertilising the soil, and help more with reducing weeds in the soil and help to conserve moisture in the soil. Gravel, shingle and stone chippings are great for mulching open patches of soil, whilst crushed shells and tumbled glass would work well in plant containers.

When to apply mulch

Moist and warm soil is the best type for mulching, so it is best to apply it between late spring and the beginning of autumn. You should avoid applying mulch between the end of autumn and early spring, if you can,  because the soil is too cold. It doesn’t matter whether you’re applying the mulch to new or established plants, it will still benefit them.

How to apply it

You can cover your beds and borders entirely with mulch, providing that you take care not to smother low-growing plants or to pile mulch too high against the stems of woody plants. However, some things to keep in mind when mulching are:

  • biodegradable mulches are most effective when they are applied in layers between 2 and 3 inches thick.
  • you should remove weeds (and their roots) before applying mulch
  • mulch is best applied over slightly moist soil

Things to look out for

Most of the time, you will have no problems when you mulch your plants. However, you should be aware that:

  • putting mulch too close to trees or specimen plants can make them more vulnerable to diseases because the mulch could weaken the stems.
  • it is possible that lower-quality mulching material could actually introduce pests and diseases to the plant, so you should opt for the best quality, wherever possible.
  • built up mulch can become hard, preventing water from penetrating into the soil. You can, however, avoid this by only adding new mulch when the existing layer has degraded completely.

Do you have your own tips on how to mulch plants, trees and shrubs in the garden? Perhaps you have discovered a fantastic mulching material? Share your ideas in the comments below!

[Photo Credit: zphaze]