Consider this: Mulch is a protective layer of ‘material’ spread over the surface of a garden. It may be a NATURAL product such as peat moss, straw, grass clippings, etc. or it may be MAN-MADE, such as plastic films or synthetic cloths. Some mulches are also soil amendments, adding nutrients to the garden as they decompose. They may also be decorative, such as bark or stones. Summer mulch retards water loss, holds down weeds and prevents soil from eroding or crusting over. Winter mulch provides protection from freezing and thawing (called heaving) which can kill plants and is removed in spring at the first sign of new growth. Mulch in the vegetable garden also helps to keep fruits and veggies, such as tomatoes, off the ground, cleaner and less viable to disease.
Mulching a veggie garden should be done late in spring after the soil has a chance to warm up. Spread mulch around new transplants to about 1inch and gradually build to 3 inches as the plants grow taller. Rows of lettuce may be mulched on either side. In the landscape, use mulch in the same way as the veggie garden. Avoid placing mulch against the trunk of a woody plant or directly against the house foundation to discourage decay and insect activity.
Use mulch sparingly if at all in the herb garden. Most herbs DO NOT appreciate wet feet! Remember, using natural mulches in the garden may temporarily rob the plants of nitrogen as the mulch decomposes. Some mulch/compost tends to add weed seed to the garden. If you’re using black plastic, make sure you cut slits or holes into the plastic to allow air and water/nutrients to reach the soil. Black print newspaper is also an effective “mulch”.
You’ll find many different mulches in my gardens, from wood chips, fabric, newspaper, used straw and black plastic…even oyster shells! Each has its ‘preferred’ application and purpose. Mulch in my garden – is a good thing!