Remember in the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, when the father believed that Windex was the cure-all for everything?
Well, for those of us who garden and cultivate the land, mulch is our windex.
Let’s make this as simple as possible. 🙂
Mulch is essentially a topping for the soil. It can be made of a variety of organic or sometimes, inorganic material. If you think of your garden or food forest as a layered cake, mulch is the top layer, or the frosting! Like frosting on a cake, it holds in the moisture and richness of the soil beneath it.
If you look around nature, you will notice that soil is NEVER “naturally” bare. In a blog I wrote a while back I talked about how nature abhors a vacuum. Our landscapes, as God created them, must be filled for them to thrive and grow. Where do we notice bareness in nature? Rocks and desserts. Growth, at least quality growth, does not happen where the soil is exposed and bare. Our top soil is crucial to the nutrient density of the plants that grow in it, and top soil can be rapidly damaged by the sunlight and other external weather. Therefore, the more we can protect our beautiful top soil, the greater our success in gardening and caring for the landscapes around us.
This film, “Back to Eden” is one of the best documentaries on the importance and benefits of using mulch.
Here is a quick and succinct list of mulching benefits…
- Reduction and elimination of unwanted weeds and other root competition.
- Prevents the compaction of your soil. Loose soil is best for plant health.
- Helps the soil endure harsh temperature changes. Keeps plant roots insulted in winter and cooler in the summer.
- Holds moisture for slow release into the soil. Instead of rainwater falling too rapidly, drowning or plants or washing out parts of the garden, the mulch traps the water and allows for a more controlled release.
- Builds the soil. As the mulch decomposes it feeds valuable nutrients to the soil.
- Adds a beautiful texture and low maintenance visuals to your landscaping and garden.
- Helps prevent soil erosion.
How to mulch.
You should mulch around your trees, in your garden, and around shrubs or other landscapes. Generally, I say, cover bare soil anywhere you see it, but also cover the ground where important roots are being fostered for trees or food.
The mulch layer doesn’t need to be too thick, maybe just 1 inch. Overtime the mulch will turn into a compost like layer and will need to be mixed in and different seasons will require new mulch layers. *Beware, if you have chickens, they are scratchers and will make messes of your mulch piles!*
Where to get mulch.
My favorite types of mulch are the “free” types. Grass clippings, wood chips, “chop and drop” style, or straw are all great options. It is true that sometimes mulch needs to be purchased, but often you can find mulch for free or very inexpensively.
This article by the Permaculture Research Institute is a great one, as it goes over the benefits of mulching and some clever ways to utilize natural resources, or things you can grow in your garden or receive from the land around you, without much effort!
My list of favorite mulching options:
- Wood chips/Shredded Bark. These can be made if you have a chipper. They can also be procured around your community. Be on the look out for free mulch from your townships, cities, or neighbors. If you can’t get it for free, check out your local gardening/landscaping shops and get a price check from them.
- Straw. Straw is often available from farmers or other landscaping companies. Straw is super practical and can be used along with cardboard to cover bare soil. Please note that straw and hay are not the same thing. 🙂
- Chop & Drop. You can use raked leaves, grass clippings or pruned plant debris, like comfrey, as great mulching sources. Granted, a variety of different organic leaves don’t always have that “finished” or “purposeful” look. They can come off looking a little unorganized, but for a backyard garden or trees that are tucked out of sight, the chop and drop method is cheap, quick, and practical.
The video below is talking about what types of mulch should be used in specific parts of your garden.
This was my super duper quick why and how guide to mulch, but there is SO much more information, if you are interested! The Permaculture Research Institute takes this topic a little further in this article, where Jonathan Engels talks about what soil types do best with mulch and what sort of colors, thicknesses, and varieties should be used in our various landscapes/gardens.
In addition, I KNOW I mentioned it above, but I wanted to suggest the film “Back to Eden” one more time. You can find it here, for FREE!