Manage Your Mulch

Whether you have been gardening your whole life or you are starting your first garden this year, it is important to understand the importance of mulch. The benefit of maintaining a healthy layer of mulch in your garden is not limited to the pleasant aesthetic of the large store-bought wood chips.
Mulching benefits include:
  • Added moisture retention
  • Reduced weed growth
  • Reduced soil compaction
  • Increased nutrients
  • Improved temperature consistency

 The best part is you probably have mulch material all over your property! Mulch can be made from nearly any organic plant material. Some common mulch materials include wood chips, bark, leaves, straw, pine needles and even grass clippings. It is best practice to use about 2-3 inches of mulch for most applications. Too much can prevent water from reaching the soil and too little will not provide an appropriate level of insulation and protection. Mulch should be placed about 2-4 inches away from a plant to allow that seedling to grow freely. It is best to reapply mulch in the spring to replace the material that has decomposed over the winter.

Note: It is important to use low seed count material so that there are no unintended plants being introduced to your garden. Some mulch materials such as straw and grass clippings may accidently introduce that plant into your garden which may result in an extra weeding step during the growing season.

Moisture Retention

Mulch helps hold moisture in your soil by protecting it from the sun and keeping it from evaporating too quickly. It acts much like a roof for your soil. This same concept is beneficial in many other ways as well.

Reduce Weeds

Adding mulch to any space where you do not want plants to grow is an effective weed prevention technique. The “roof” of mulch prevents sunlight from reaching the soil and prevents weeds from growing. It is important that you do not mulch over a freshly planted seed bed. The same principle that prevents weeds will likely prevent your crop from growing as well. Wait until your seedlings have grown to 3-4 inches tall before mulching around them or simply leave a small gap in the mulch where seeds are planted.

Reduce Soil Compaction

Mulch absorbs the impact of rain and prevents that force from compacting the soil. Gardens that utilize mulch do not need to be cultivated nearly as often.

Increase Nutrients

As the organic material in your mulch breaks down it acts as compost and recycles those nutrients back into your soil. Materials like grass and straw break down quicker than wood chips and pine needles, therefore adding nutrients to the soil more quickly, However, these mulch materials will need to be replenished more often.

Temperature Management

In the summer, mulch helps keep the heat of the sun off the soil in your gardens, keeping the temperature cooler and maintaining moisture content. In the colder months, mulch insulates the soil and prevents rapid temperature changes form effecting your plants. A garden without mulch might lose everything to a hard frost while a mulched garden may only suffer minor damages or short-term effects.

How to Make Your Own Mulch

Making mulch not only helps your gardens but can also accomplish other chores at the same time by recycling your unwanted plant material. Some of the best and most readily available mulch material is composed of wood chips or shredded leaves. The Earthquake Chipper Shredder is the easiest way to turn your unwanted brush and leaves into useful mulch. Leaves can be shredded in the hopper of the machine or vacuumed up with the optional vacuum attachment, while limbs up to 3” in diameter can be chipped through the chipper tube. The mulch is then stored in the bag until you are ready to disperse it in your garden or around your trees and shrubs.

If you are in a more urban setting and do not have access to wood or leaves, you can also reuse grass clippings from your lawn. This method is very effective at delivering nutrients to the soil because grass clippings break down much quicker than other options. However grass used for many lawns has a high seed count so be aware that this method may introduce some unwanted seed to your garden.