The Importance of Mulching
Have you ever left an article of clothing or a toy out in the sun for a few days? When you bring it back inside you usually find that the item is three shades lighter. Believe it or not, the same thing happens to soil! Dirt exposed to the bright rays of that fireball in the sky is, unfortunately, dead soil. No matter how much you amend your garden ground with compost and fertilizers, the sun has a way of leeching out nutrients, which leaves soil dry and well, useless.
As we enter August, arguably the harshest month of the year in Central Texas, there is an increasing need to protect the ground that cradles your plants. The very best way to do this is by mulching. This week we explore how this practice helps your garden (as well as some of the best mulching advice we have to offer.)
We cannot promote this timesaving gardening method enough! By mulching you protect the soil from harsh environmental elements, while conserving water, and feeding your plants key vitamins that improve growth. In addition to controlling the pests that plague crops, it offers a safe and inviting home for those beneficial bugs that love to feed on the enemies. Ultimately, you can create a flourishing mini-ecosystem comparable to a rich forest floor. While some folks lay plastic or cloth over the ground to prevent weeds from springing up, this can effectively be accomplished by spreading a thick layer of organic material over your flower and veggie beds.
This raises some key questions. What separates organic mulch from inorganic mulch, and which will benefit your garden the most?
You may automatically think of harsh plastics, or shredded tires when we mention “inorganic”, but actually, inorganic mulch can describe anything that has never lived. This includes stone and gravel, geotextiles (also known as landscaping cloth), newspaper, cardboard, and glass. These materials can prove incredibly beneficial when you are looking to control weeds. Because of their dense qualities, inorganic mulches can fully block out the sun that would otherwise geminate weed seeds found in the soil below. Such materials also tend to be more long-term solutions, as it takes more effort for some to biodegrade, while others never decompose. If aesthetics are high on your priority list, inorganic mulches tend to have a more visually appealing effect on yards. Stones and glass allow for excellent drainage, which can be especially useful when you water your beds with a hose or sprinkler. While the inorganic mulch options tend to run a little pricier, they do last longer. We typically recommend this option for folks who are looking to xeriscape their lawn using primarily native plants.
Conversely, organic mulch is true to its name. It refers to any material that has once lived, such as grass clippings, shredded bark, leaf matter, and saw dust. These choices tend to benefit the soil by adding nutrients while simultaneously aiding in the growth of beneficial bacteria and fungi during their decomposition process. Working best in your vegetable and herb gardens, organic mulches offer some serious root insulation- keeping the soil cool in the hottest parts of summer and warm during the coldest aspects of winter. It can also make your garden beds draught tolerant, as the materials hold in water for longer periods of time. As far as weeds are concerned, these mulching options can pose a few problems if the gardener is not careful. First, because some materials come directly from the land, they may still house weed seeds that can spring up and overrun your edibles. You can prevent germination by first spreading the material out where the sun can destroy the seeds with high temperatures. Also apply thick amounts of mulch on your beds in order to deprive remaining weed seeds the light needed to germinate. Also, be cautious when using grass clippings, as these may contain more seeds than other options. Because of their decomposition rates, the organic mulches will have to be replenished every few weeks if you are concerned with aesthetics. Try using a thicker, bigger option, like bark chips, to slow down the process.
Spread the Mulch
When applying mulches, be sure to remove as much grass and other undesirable plant root material as possible. They will come back to haunt you if you are not careful! Keep the soil moist by wetting it down fully before the mulch is spread. We recommend planting BEFORE you mulch, and be sure to leave a 1-3inch space between the base of your plants and the mulch matter. Due to their water retention abilities, mulch could cause your plant to rot when it is spread directly around the base of the stem. Fine mulches like sawdust can form a thick crust on the ground surface, which could hinder water drainage, so “fluff” finer materials periodically if you are not using them on pathways. Coarse mulches should be applied in thick layers to control weeds- we recommend 4-8 inches.
Protect your plants and get those grounds covered before August hits! We provide some of the best mulch materials –like Texas pine straw- to keep your flower and veggie beds healthy. If you would like to know more about mulching options, or if you have questions don’t hesitate to email us.