In gardening, a lot of attention is given to improving soil conditions because this will result in healthier plants. One way to improve your soil is to use mulch. It helps to keep your garden healthy for many reasons, such as keeping soil cool and moist, controlling weeds, adding nutrients, reducing soil temperature fluctuations and preventing soil erosion. Who knew that mulch could do so much?
Before we get into the benefits of mulch, let's first discuss what mulch is. Mulch is made from organic, biodegradable material, such as shredded bark, leaves, wood chips or shredded newspaper. Mulch can be made from other sources, including those that aren't biodegradable, but organic sources of mulch are the best. This organic material is then spread directly on top of the soil and around the plants you are trying to grow. You should use 2-3 inches of mulch for it to be effective and gain the benefits listed below.
With mulch that is made from natural sources, such as shredded bark, leaves or straw, it will decompose over time. As the mulch decomposes, it will add nutrients to the soil. It also helps to keep the soil loose so that roots can easily grow and spread out. As well, up until the time the mulch has fully decomposed, it can still retain moisture and release it slowly into the soil.
A second benefit, mentioned above, is that mulch retains moisture. This helps to keep the soil underneath it moist and cool. Moist soil means less watering for you. Cool soil means that the roots of your plants are protected from extreme heat, which causes plants to wither and become vulnerable to disease and rot. One thing to keep in mind is that since the mulch retains so much moisture, you will need to keep it away from the stems of your plants so that they won't rot.
Another benefit of mulch is that it helps to prevent soil erosion by reducing the velocity of the rainwater. However, heavy rainfalls can wash away the mulch, so inspect your garden periodically and replace mulch where it is required. As well, if you are using mulch on a steep slope or hill, you can use netting to hold the mulch in place.
As well, mulch helps to control weeds. It does this by preventing sunlight from getting through. The thicker the layer, the less sunlight that can penetrate down into the soil, but even a thin layer of mulch can be effective. The key is to reduce the amount of sunlight. If the weeds don't get enough sun, they can't grow.
A fifth benefit is reducing temperature fluctuations in the soil itself. Add mulch to your garden after the ground has frozen to reduce the effect of freezing and thawing on the soil in the spring. Roots that are near the surface, particularly young roots, can become exposed to the elements as the soil around them freezes at night and thaws during the day. This exposure can weaken and damage roots. By adding mulch, the soil will stay warm and not freeze. Straw or hay bales are the best for winter mulching, as it won't become compacted over the winter from the weight of repeated snowfalls.
Adding mulch to your garden is quick and easy. While you will need to add new mulch every season, it is well worth it.
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