Mulching: Advantages and Disadvantages
Mulch is any material that covers the surface of the soil. Considering nature, mulch simply includes plant debris and fallen leaves. When talking about the garden, mulch can also include wood chips, compost, cardboard, rotted manure, or even seaweed.
Recently, we have come to recognize and appreciate mulch’s ecological and sustainable benefits. If applied appropriately, mulching sustains soil’s existing microbes with nutrients and the waste generated from these small microbes helps to create a strong soil structure for plants, reducing compaction. Mulching is an essential part of gardening to make plants look beautiful and productive throughout the year. In this article, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of mulching. We are also going to explore types of mulch, how to mulch, when to mulch, the right type of mulch and the right depth for mulch.
Advantages of Mulching
- Limits weed growth by preventing light from reaching the soil surface.
- Limits water loss from the soil surface, maintaining soil moisture.
- Decreases soil temperatures and keeps it cooler on hot days and warmer on cold nights.
- Covers and protects the soil by reducing soil compaction and erosion.
- Protects plants from the severe winter conditions, including freezing, thawing, and winds.
- Soil below mulch will be warmer as compared to unprotected soil in winters. This protects plants from the pattern of freezing and thawing which can lead to drawing them out of the ground.
- Prevents layering over the soil surface. Water movement is more active into soil covered with mulch rather than running off.
- Prevents soil from splashing onto leaves; this limits the probability of plants getting bacterial and fungal diseases.
- Organic mulch helps to break down and feed the soil.
- Boost the structure of clay soils and the moisture-retention capability of sandy soils.
- Organic mulch slowly increases soil fertility and may improve the availability of already present micronutrients in the soil.
- Warms the soil in spring enabling the gardener to plant, days or weeks prior to the soil needs to get ready.
- Keeps plants off the ground and clean, especially melons and tomatoes, to prevent plant diseases.
- Reduces the possibility of damaging trunks of trees when mulch is applied around them in place of grass.
- Enhances plant health and growth leading to fewer weeds and more constant moisture and soil temperature.
- Makes gardens “groomed up” and attractive, giving an even appearance to garden design.
Disadvantages of Mulching
Even though using mulch has many benefits, in some cases, it can prove to be detrimental to your lawn or garden:
- Excessive mulch that is a layer more than 3 inches deep can suffocate and bury plants. In this case, oxygen and water are unable to reach the roots. A layer of 2 to 3 inches of mulch is enough. Do not over mulch.
- Mulch can be responsible for rotting bark if accumulation around the shrubs and trunks of trees. Mulch should be placed 6 to 12 inches away from the base of woody plants. Placing mulch away from the trunk inhibits gnawing rodents, wood-boring insects, and decay.
- Applying mulch near plant stems becomes the ideal place for tunneling rodents, slugs, snails, and more pests to inhabit. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth or wood ashes around the base of precious plants to keep away snails and slugs.
- Your plants can be baked with excess heat in midsummer if mulch is not applied properly.
- Wood-based mulches, such as fresh wood chips or sawdust, can take away nitrogen from the soil as they break down. Nullify this effect by adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, like alfalfa, cottonseed meal or soybean meal to the mulch.
How much Mulch Is Needed
A layer of 2- 3 inches is enough when using organic mulches when mulching lawn. A thinner layer is needed if the material is finer. Inorganic mulch is usually more shallow. For instance, a mulch of small stones often only requires to be an inch deep.
If you want to apply 2 inches of mulch, you will need 18 cubic feet (1 cubic yard=27 cubic feet) of mulch to cover 100 square feet. Similarly, if you are applying 3 inches of mulch, you will need 27 cubic feet of mulch to cover 100 square feet.
Dry mulches, such as wood chips, sawdust, dry straw and peat moss, can prove to be a fire hazard. Place them away from buildings to prevent hazards and be on the safer side.
Types of Mulch
The suitable mulch should be necessarily dense to block weed growth but sufficiently light and open to allow air and water to reach the soil. Factors to consider when buying mulch are availability, cost, ease of application, and how it appears in the garden. There are many materials of various textures and colors to choose from. Both organic and inorganic mulches are effective to use in the garden.
Organic mulch is the natural product formed from leaves, grass, trees, and other plant material, usually from your own yard. They break down eventually over time. The advantage is that they are really adding organic matter to the soil. However, they must be reapplied periodically. Listed below are various types of mulch that you can use for your garden or landscape.
- Compost is easily available and breaks down quickly to improve soil. Usually, towns make it available from their leaf composting facility if you are not having your own. However, it must be reapplied and can contain weed seeds.
- Leaf mold and shredded leaves are also readily available and if chopped, gradually break down and sustain the soil with beneficial materials. The downside here is that leaves can mat if wet which lessens the moisture and oxygen in the soil. Do not mat layers of wet leaves.
- Chipped or Shredded bark. Softwood bark mulch resists compaction, is attractive and breaks down gradually. Hardwood bark is appealing but breaks down fast and needs to be appropriately composted to prevent sour mulch and troubling fungi.
- Salt marsh hay and Straw are cheap and are helpful for covering. However, they decompose more rapidly, may help rodents to reside and are easily blown away by the wind.
- Grass clippings are easily available too but should be dried before using or spread in a thin layer to prevent them from becoming a slimy, hot, stinky mess. In addition, do not use grass clippings from a food garden treated with chemicals.
- Pine needles remain in place better than most mulches and are attractive too. They break down slowly and are not as acidic as you might expect, so don’t worry if they will change the soil’s pH.
- Local byproducts, like cocoa hulls, spent hops from a brewery, ground corn cobs, newspaper, coffee grounds, or cardboard can also be much. Become creative!
Listed below are some of the inorganic mulches.
- Crushed stone, marble, gravel, or brick chips provide a permanent mulch around trees and shrubs. Therefore, these mulches are hard to move, expensive and can get into the lawn. Soil and Weed seeds can still reach into the stones, this can be prevented by an underlayer of landscape fabric.
- Black plastic mulch reduces water loss, helps warm the soil in spring, and is convenient. It can make a considerable difference in short growing seasons. Although it is impermeable therefore, it is more difficult to water. Moreover, it breaks down when exposed to sunlight and the soil below the plastic becomes very hot in the mid summer if not covered with another mulch or shaded by leaves.
- Silver plastic mulch is excellent at warming soil in spring but is unable to control weeds. The soil becomes much hotter with clear plastic in mid summer and it can cause damage to plants if the plastic is not shaded.
- Landscape fabric suffocates weeds while allowing water, air and fertilizer to move through it and into the soil. It is treated to repel decomposition and it helps hold soil moisture. It is essential to fix the fabric down so that perennial weeds cannot thrust them up.
How To Apply Mulch In Different Seasons
Mulching in Spring
Bring out winter mulch in the spring when there is no danger of a hard frost so that the ground can warm and new growth will not be hampered. Consider placing a porous landscape fabric on a number of beds, if there are many weeds on the ground where you want to grow.
Alternatively, spread out a layer of cardboard before placing your organic matter. Properly wet the cardboard to aid it in breaking down. The cardboard will act as an additional barrier to weeds, wearing and at last killing most of them. Once the growing season arrives, you will observe that any weeds that do manage to survive will be much easier to get rid of.
When the soil has warmed after a few spring rains, set down soaker hoses in each bed. Next, cover the hoses with a fabric to accelerate the modification in soil temperatures and warm the soil to plant earlier. Create planting holes at varying spacings for different crops. Watering is done efficiently, and maintaining a large area becomes much easier.
Once the plants have grown a little, the fabric is covered. We also use organic mulch including leaf mold, straw, wood chips, grass clippings, and shredded leaves for crops that prefer it cooler.
Make sure to frequently mulch with organic matter. Replenish old mulch as it becomes rotted or gets mixed into the soil, so that the ground is being consistently fed and steadily built up.
Mulching in Autumn
Generally, mulch is not used in the fall, besides for bare, unplanted garden beds to check erosion. If you didn’t plant a winter cover crop that you should have done in spring, so now place a thick layer of well-rotted organic matter or soil-conditioning compost over the bare soil. You can also use shredded leaves and place it a minimum of four inches deep.
Otherwise, do not apply mulch to your lawn or garden in autumn. The soil does not cool down rapidly and plants may continue to grow. New growth may not freeze and can be harmed by winter cold. Additionally, mulching in the fall keeps the soil wet, which can result in root rot and plant death.
Note: If you are planting new areas, first clear the surface of any rocks and debris bigger than a hen’s egg. Cut down weeds and mow grass to the ground. After some months, any weeds and grass will have decomposed off, also at that time the earthworms will work to slowly combine the organic mulch into the soil below.
Mulching in Winter
After experiencing several freezes, you can apply winter mulch around the base of any vulnerable perennial plants or new plants. Grafted plants, such as hybrid tea roses, make the most from being mulched excessively.
Shredded leaves, straw, shredded mulch or pine needles, are all nice winter mulch. Apply 3-4 inches as it’s essential to apply ample mulch in winter to keep the frozen ground fully covered so the plant stays dormant until spring, not worrying about what type of cold or warm spells occur.
Make sure not to place mulch beside the crowns of plants or trunks of trees, as this encourages bark-gnawing rodents.
Shield buds and branches of evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs like viburnums and rhododendrons by covering them with burlap or safeguarding them with a tree guard filled with shredded leaves for insulation.
Improve the quality of your soil by covering it with organic or inorganic mulch, depending on the benefits you desire. Get proper mulching guidance for your garden or lawn from our experts at Edenapp. Contact us today!