Garden Advice

What Is Mulching and What Are Its Advantages?

Gardening is becoming more and more popular, be it curating the perfect flower display or growing your own tasty veggies. So, it comes as no surprise that gardening aficionados want to provide their green space with the best care possible.

One of the aspects of garden maintenance that experts swear by is mulching. And with good reason, too! Mulch offers many benefits and can help your plants thrive in ways you probably haven’t thought of. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place!

In this post, we’ll talk about what mulching is, its wide range of advantages, and what issues to look out for. So, stick around!

If you:

  • Love spending your time tending to your green space;
  • Are looking for ways to improve your garden’s look and wellbeing;
  • Want to know more about what mulching is and what it can do for you,

Then keep on reading! This post has all the answers.

What is mulching in gardening?

So, let’s start with the basics – what is mulching?

Mulching is the process of applying a protective layer of material over the soil in your garden. You can mulch large patches of ground, beds or borders, raised beds, or even containers. It’s a vital spring and autumn gardening task.

Want to know more about when to apply mulch or perform other gardening jobs? Take a look at our year-round gardening calendar!

But what is mulch exactly? Are there different types of garden mulch? What is it used for, and what are its benefits? We’ll cover all of this below.

What is garden mulch?

Mulch refers to any material used to cover the soil in your garden. This can be a loose covering or a sheet and varies greatly in purpose and type – from leaves to wood chips, compost, stone, or even cardboard.

What is mulch used for?

Mulching has a wide range of uses and benefits, some of which vary depending on the material. It’s most commonly used to improve water retention, prevent weeds from sprouting, improving soil structure, and make your green space look even better.

While these are the main functions of most types of mulch, there are some additional benefits and drawbacks for different materials.

And, speaking of…

What types of mulch are there?

There are many, many different types of garden mulch out there, and each one serves a different purpose. However, we can sort all of them into two categories: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulch, also called biodegradable or natural, refers to mulches that break down over time and provide the soil with nutrients in the process. It works wonders when it comes to keeping weeds in check and improving water retention, too. Organic mulch refers to compost, bark, wood chips, leaf mulch or leaf mould, grass clippings, rotted manure, and other natural materials.

While biodegradable mulch has tonnes of advantages, it requires a little extra work. You’ll have to add new layers of mulch to the garden once the old ones break down completely.

Inorganic mulch (also known as synthetic or non-biodegradable) includes gravel, stone chips, shingle, landscape fabric, sheets, and other materials that don’t break down. These don’t add any beneficial nutrients to the soil, so they can be a good, low-maintenance option if that’s not your goal.

Non-biodegradable mulches require less upkeep than natural ones, as they don’t need constant replacing and still work great to prevent weeds and improve water retention.

Now, let’s go into more detail about the advantages (and potential drawbacks) of mulch.

What are the benefits of mulching?

There’s a lot to cover when it comes to the benefits of mulch. So, we’ll start with the more popular ones.

One of the main advantages of mulching is that it helps water retention in the soil.

If you leave the ground uncovered, especially during hot spells, it tends to dry out a lot faster. If you don’t keep up with watering, the roots will dry out, and before you know it, you could be looking at a bunch of dead plants. Adding a mulch layer on top will trap the moisture, protecting it from wind, sunshine, and hot temperatures. This leads to higher water retention and less watering.

As you can probably tell, mulch protects your plants from extreme temperatures not just in summer but in winter, too.

Yes, a layer of mulch keeps the ground cooler in the hot months. But it works the same way in the cold, too. The ground warms up nicely in summer and, if left uncovered, can cool down pretty quickly. Mulch acts like a blanket, keeping the soil below warm for a little while longer and preventing frozen roots.

As we mentioned earlier, another crucial benefit of mulch is that it keeps weeds from growing.

By covering the ground with a layer of mulch, you’re blocking sunlight from reaching any pesky weeds that may be lurking below, thus preventing them from sprouting. This significantly lowers the amount of time you’ll have to spend on weeding.

Now that we’ve covered the main benefits of mulching, here are some additional advantages it can offer:

  • Prevents soil erosion
    When water hits the ground, it can cause the soil to break apart and erode over time. Mulch offers a protective layer that softens the blow and slowly releases the moisture.
  • Improves the soil and adds nutrients
    This is a great way to prepare the soil for planting. When organic mulch breaks down, it provides the ground below with beneficial nutrients like humus, phosphorus, and nitrogen, depending on the material. Mulching can help improve clay soil or sandy soil, too.
  • Keeps pests at bay
    Some types of mulch are fantastic at keeping certain garden pests away. Pine, cedar, and cypress wood chips work great if you want to prevent fleas and gnats from taking over.
  • Provides a good environment for earthworms
    Earthworms and other helpful organisms will find your garden irresistible if you provide them with suitable conditions. In turn, they can do wonders for the soil’s structure, fertility, and nutrients.
  • Improves the appearance of your green space
    Mulch can make your garden look neat and tidy, too. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all types of mulch. Plastic sheets and chips aren’t the most attractive kind, for example. But stone or wood chippings? They can be a wonderful addition to your landscaping.
  • Lets you recycle your garden waste
    You can easily turn leaves and grass clippings into suitable mulch and compost. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Keep in mind that some organic mulch types can take certain nutrients away from the soil when decomposing. Always research your chosen mulch type’s properties and specifics, and consider your garden’s needs before committing to it.

So, now you know about the various benefits of mulching. But it can’t all be fun and games, right?

Does mulching have disadvantages?

While mulch offers a plethora of benefits, it does have its drawbacks if not used properly. So, knowing how to use mulch the right way is essential.

Let’s go over what could go wrong if mulch is misused.

  • Too much moisture
    Some materials can retain way too much water. And, if you know anything about watering plants, you know that excess moisture can be fatal. If you are using fine mulch, such as grass clippings or peat moss, make sure you mix them with other coarse materials.
  • Overmulching
    While you do need to add a good amount of mulch most of the time, too much of it can be a problem. Usually, 5 to 7 centimetres of mulch are more than enough. If you layer it on too thick, you can suffocate your plants, preventing water and oxygen from reaching the roots. This applies to plastic mulch and sheets especially. If you need to use sheets and weed barriers, make sure you get permeable ones.
  • Heat stress
    Dark-coloured mulch soaks up the sunshine and heats up during the day, warming up the soil underneath, too. If it gets too hot too close to the plant, it can cause heat damage.
  • Temperature issues
    Mulching at just the right time is essential. Apply it too early or too late, and you risk messing up the soil temperature. For example, if you mulch too early in the spring, the protective layer can prevent the soil from warming up fast enough, resulting in slow-growing roots.
  • Bark rotting
    If you want to mulch around a tree, don’t pile it up around the base, but keep it at a distance instead. Too much mulch right at the base can lead to root collar rot. Once this happens, the tree will be susceptible to dangerous pests and diseases.
  • Pest issues
    If you add mulch close to a plant’s stem, you may find it overtaken by pests, such as slugs and rodents. You can add some diatomaceous earth around the stem to protect the plant.
  • Surprise weeds
    When using organic mulch, there’s a risk of weeds sprouting from random seeds that have found themselves in it. To be safe, natural mulch should be well-composted or treated beforehand.

It may seem like there are tonnes of things that can go wrong. But don’t be discouraged! With proper mulch use, all of these risks are pretty much eliminated.

Need a hand? The expert gardeners are here for you!

If you find garden maintenance too overwhelming, or if you would simply rather spend your free time doing something else, why not turn to the professionals?

Fantastic Services offers you a reliable garden care service to cover all your gardening needs! We work with highly-trained and experienced professionals that can transform your green space into your own slice of paradise! Whether you need regular garden maintenance or a one-off service, we’ve got you covered.

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Takeaways

  • Mulch is any material used to add a protective layer over your garden soil.
  • The two main types of mulch are organic (natural) and inorganic (synthetic).
  • The main benefits of mulching are increased water retention, temperature control, and weed prevention.
  • Other mulch benefits include pest prevention, improved soil structure and fertility, and a decorative touch.
  • If not used correctly, mulch can do more harm than good.

If you’d like to know more about mulching, you might be interested in our helpful guide on leaf mulch and how to make it. We talk about what it is, what its benefits are, and how you can easily make your own!

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We hope you found this post helpful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments!

Image source: Shutterstock / stockcreations

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