Choosing the Best Garden Mulch

Mulch is a type of material which is either laid or spread on the surface of an area of soil. It is useful to conserve moisture, improve the fertility and health of the soil, reduce weed growth and enhance the visual appeal of the area to look more attractive.


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Mulch is generally but not entirely organic in nature. It can be either applied permanently/inorganic using plastic sheeting or temporary/organic cover using bark chips. It can be applied to natural soil, or on open space around your plants. Compost mulches will be integrated naturally into the soil by the activity of worms and other organisms.

Content Details

  • Why is Mulch used?
  • Types of Mulch
  • Choosing the Best Mulch Type
  • Conclusion
  • External Link References
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Why is Mulch Used?

Spreading mulch all across your garden soil is the most appropriate method to save time and energy that you spend in your yard. Mulch helps the soil to hold moisture for a longer time so that you don’t have to water them often. It also helps to suppress weeds. And ultimately, mulches made from organic materials break down and enhances your garden’s soil structure and fertility.

As you are aware about what are mulch and the purpose of using them, let’s have some details on types of mulch, i.e. organic mulch and inorganic mulch. There are various mulches available within these types. The brief details of mulch and its uses are mentioned further in the article for you to choose the best garden mulch suitable for you.

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Types of Mulch – Best vegetable garden mulch

Organic Mulch

Organic mulches help to improve the fertility of soil, as they decompose. However, the decomposed organic mulch will have to be replaced at regular intervals. Normally, more dry and woody mulch will decompose slowly and thus fewer nutrients will be available to the soil.

Organic mulches include

  • Shredded Bark
  • Compost
  • Composted Manure
  • Grass Clippings
  • Newspaper
  • Shredded Leaves
  • Straw

Organic mulches and its uses are mentioned below

Shredded bark

Shredded bark is one of the most common and least expensive types of mulch. It comes from various sources like cedar trees. This is the best mulch that can be used on slopes, around trees, shrubs and in garden beds as there is no need to do digging and it breaks down relatively slowly. However, these woody mulches don’t get easily mixed in the soil. So at times it can become a hassle as you need to keep moving them aside to allow new plants to grow.

Shredded bark Mulch tip: Shredded bark might take up some nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes. So, if you have poor soil, add some organic fertilizer to the soil to keep your plants healthy.

Compost and Composted Manure

Compost and Composted Manure can be used anywhere, provided they are relatively well composted and are weed free. It is considered one of the best garden mulch to prevent weeds. Compost looks like soil, except the darker one, so it really settles well. You may use them as a coating of mulch or simply side dress plants with it during the growing season. This will insulate your plants and will slowly release nutrients. This mulch material breaks quickly and adds to your soil structure. In addition, this is inexpensive and you can create your own rich compost for free.

Grass Clippings

Grass Clippings are best suited to your garden where you mostly want to suppress weeds. Grass clippings are mostly green plant debris that contains a high amount of water, thus it rapidly decomposes. Grass clippings are also likely to mat down, not allowing water to pass through. So, it is best to use grass clippings in thin layers or allow the grass to dry before spreading it as mulch otherwise it starts to stink and rot as it decomposes.

Grass Clippings Tip: Preferably you should use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn to add fertility to that soil. Avoid using grass clippings as mulch if your lawn is chemically treated, especially if you wish to use it in vegetable gardens. The chemicals may harm your precious garden plants. However, untreated grass clippings can either be discarded into your compost bin or can be used to mulch open and unplanted areas of your garden.

Newspaper

Nowadays, Newspaper as mulch is becoming more accepted. Most newspapers have shifted to use organic dyes for their black & white sections. For years shredded newspaper has been used to keep plant roots moist while shipping. Layered sheets of newspaper have great moisture retention abilities. They are similar to other organic mulches, acting as much as suppressing weeds and controlling soil temperatures. They can also be useful for smothering existing grass or making a new garden bed.

Spread a layer of 4 – 8 sheets of newspaper around the plants to use it as a mulch for your garden. Moisten all those sheets to settle them in one place. During stormy days it is easier to moisten the sheets before placing them near plants. Cover these sheets of newspapers with a 1-3 inch layer of other organic mulch to protect from weeds throughout the growing season.

Shredded Leaves

Shredded Leaves are a favorite mulch for the natural world. Shredded leaves can be used as mulch anywhere and has an added advantage to save money as they are available free. Fallen leaves spread across your garden might not look appealing to your eyes and is probably not appropriate for formal gardens. But if you spread this mulch in spring, before plants spread out, the leaf mulch is likely to blend into the soil within a short period of time. Shredded leaves mulch is perfect for woodland gardens. Using this for vegetable gardens in the fall to allow decomposing until winter arrives is the best option.

Unshredded leaves can mat together and keep away water during rainy season. Shredded leaves mulch is commonly used as mulch in winter.

Straw

Straw is the most suitable mulch for your vegetable garden. They keep the soil and soil borne diseases away from lower plant leaves and make your garden path less muddy and slippery. Straw decomposes very slowly and can last for the entire growing season. Straw will be a nice residence for spiders and other helpful insects that will help to keep the pests in control. Finally, it is easy to either dig or work into the soil when you desire to plant a new crop or a vegetable into your garden bed.

Straw Mulch tip: Straw mulch is a beautiful golden color that looks attractive in your garden. It is also slightly slow in breaking down compared to shredded leaves or grass clippings. However, ensure the straw is free from any weed seeds, otherwise it will grow more weeds than it prevents. When it comes to what type of mulch is best for vegetable garden, all the above organic products will work best for you in delivering excellent results.

Inorganic Mulches

Inorganic mulches are perfect for holding moisture and blocking weeds. The advantage of inorganic mulch is that it does not decompose and hence they are not required to be replaced like organic mulches. The demerit of using inorganic mulch is that it does not add any fertility to the soil. Inorganic Mulches include:

1. Black Plastic
2. Landscape Fabric
3. Stone/Gravel

Inorganic Mulches and its uses are mentioned below

Plastic and Landscape Fabric

Plastic and Landscape Fabric are good alternative for plantings around foundation and other shrubs and trees. It is also considered inorganic but one of the best landscaping mulch for trees. These plants do not require repeated fertilization and also you will not have to work on this area of the garden bed regularly. Also you don’t have to bother about weeding them all through the summer.

However, disadvantage of Plastic and Landscape Fabric is that during summer plastic can get very hot. Also, besides suppressing weed seeds, it can also destroy all the good things in your soil like fertility, structure or plant roots except there is sufficient moisture provided to roots. Make sure to cut holes in the plastic or fabric to allow sufficient water to go through. If you notice any puddles being accumulated on the top of the plastic, identify it as there won’t be enough drainage space. Landscape fabric is porous and will work well unless it gets blocked.

Plastic and Landscape Fabric Tip: If you like the working of plastic or landscape fabric, but the look is not visually appealing you have an option. You can add a thin layer of bark mulch on top of the plastic or fabric as a mask. However, as the bark decomposes, you may notice weed seeds on top of the plastic or fabric that are to be removed. Also, you will have to replace the barks as they breaks down.

Gravel and Stone

Gravel and Stone are best suitable to areas that need good drainage. It is also appropriate for garden beds with plants that require little additional heat, like Mediterranean herb gardens and rain gardens. As they are inorganic materials, gravel and stone don’t break down in the landscape or bed, so you don’t have the worry to reapply them. However, they don’t improve or add anything to your soil over time.

Gravel and Stone tip: It is very hard to remove gravel or stone mulch so rethink before using them as mulch.

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Choosing the Best Mulch Type

Well, selecting which is the best mulch for veggie garden is still a question in your mind. Of course it is organic mulch, provided by nature. In your well-designed, organized garden, organic mulch will be an added benefit. Let me brief you upon the Benefits of Organic Mulch:

  • Moderate soil temperatures: Keeping the soil temperatures down during summer minimizes the negative effects of hot days on your plants. It is particularly important during drought days. As against during winter the risk of plant death or brown leaves is more due to cold conditions. Mulch helps moderate those summers and cold weather temperatures.
  • Maintain soil health: Mulch for vegetable gardens work tirelessly and continuously to improve the health of the soil. They are being broken down by microbes and increase the organic content of the soil.
  • Organic mulch improves soil structure as it is broken down. It slowly releases the nutrients into the soil thus improving fertility. It prevents compaction when you walk in the garden and erosion from the wind or gravity on steep slopes.
  • Reduces weed: You don’t want to spend lots of your precious time removing unwanted weeds. A continuous 3″ to 4″ layer of mulch minimizes the growth of weeds that can germinate, damages soil health and soil moisture and carry off nutrients from the desirable landscaping plants.
  • Water: Organic mulches have an incredible ability to hold lots of water. Even before it is broken down, mulch holds a lot of water on its own and slowly penetrates it into the soil.

Conclusion

Mulch is the most important thing you can provide your garden with, as ultimately it is beneficial to the entire soil ecosystem. Without any doubt you will be selecting any of the organic mulch for your garden. The various benefits of organic mulch are mentioned above for you to help and select the best. Organic mulch offers your plant with ideal soil health, right amount of nutrients and sufficient water, and all those things that the plant needs to flourish.

Choose mulch that is most appropriate for your plants and you as most of the organic mulches are inexpensive and are easily available.

External Link References

1. http://pasco.ifas.ufl.edu/gardening/mulches.shtml
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulch
3. http://www.smilinggardener.com/lessons/best-mulch-types
4. http://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/mulch/the-best-mulches/
5. http://gardening.about.com/od/gardenmaintenance/a/Mulch.htm

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