Updated: Oct 31, 2019
The right mulch can help protect your garden by preventing or limiting:
· Spread of disease
· Frost and heat damage
As they decompose, organic mulches can help improve soil structure, drainage, and fertility — all of which makes a happier, healthier garden.
Sourcing and Making Mulch
While packaged or bulk bark mulches may look temptingly attractive, they can also be expensive. Even worse, bark mulches can steal nitrogen from soil as they break down. Save the bark mulch for outdoor seating or play areas and for garden pathways.
Shredded leaves, pine straw (pine needles), and mixed shredded shrub and tree trimmings make the best mulch. If you look and ask around, you can even find mulch for free — plus the cost of labor to spread it, of course.
Since it’s fall, you can collect and use the leaves that fall in your own yard as mulch. You can simply rake leaves and use them as-is. Whole leaves last a lot longer than shredded ones which means that you’ll have less mulching to do next season.
Or, you could use a mulching mower to shred the leaves on your lawn. Haven’t got a mulching mower on hand? Rake leaves into manageable piles then mow over them a few times with a regular mower. Use a tarp to collect shredded leaves and move them where you need to mulch.
If you have pine trees, rake the needles directly on to a tarp. Since pine needles are lighter and thinner than deciduous leaves like oaks, you’ll need more of them. Also, it’s a good idea to use them in areas that are more densely packed with plants, or in locations that are sheltered from the prevailing winds in your yard.
Some towns and cities and tree service companies will let you have leaves or mixed shredded trimmings for free. If you use a lawn service, start by asking them.
How to Mulch
Spread organic mulches two- to three-inches deep around the base of trees and shrubs, and in garden beds and borders. Whatever you do, avoid creating the infamous mulch volcano. Stacking mulch up against the bark of trees and shrubs leads to rot and death and invites assorted pest and disease problems along for the journey. Instead, mulch like Mother Nature does. Sprinkle mulch with a lighter hand as you get close to the crown of shrubs and trees. The crown, or root flare, is the visibly wider zone between the roots and the trunk.
When your garden starts waking up in the spring, weeds will inevitably begin emerging, too. The good news is that it’ll be easier to yank any uninvited sprouts from a blanket of mulch than from bare soil.
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Blog by Jacqueline Murphy, Plant Expert, BloomCatch