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Mulching is a valuable gardening practice

Mulching may be one of the most valuable cultural practices of gardening.

The effects of using organic mulching materials include: control of annual grasses and weeds, reduced surface evaporation, improved water penetration and air movement, protection of shallow-rooted plants from freeze damage and frost heave, improved soil structure and nutrient availability, elimination of need for cultivation with the potential result of damage to roots, decrease of runoff and soil erosion, regulation of soil temperature, cleaner, more easily harvested crops, reduction of fruit rot, and easy movement in the garden during wet periods.

Mulching material

There are two types of mulches, organic and inorganic. Organic mulches include wood and bark chips, straw, grass clippings and seed hulls. Inorganic or inert mulches include polyethylene film, gravel and weed-barrier fabrics.

The ideal mulch does not compact readily, should be easy to apply and remain in place. It does not retard water and air movement into the soil, it is not a fire hazard and it breaks down slowly. In addition the ideal mulch is uniform in color, weed and pest- free, attractive, and should be effective for at least one season.

Organic mulch can be incorporated into the soil for further decomposition at the end of the season. This eliminates a protective cover for insects to overwinter.


of the mulch

Mulch can be applied in spring as soon as the soil has warmed sufficiently and soon after emergence of seedlings or following transplanting.

The depth of a mulch layer will be influenced by the texture of the material. The amount used might vary from 1 inch for sawdust, peat moss, cotton seed hulls, ground corncobs, compost or other materials of similar density to 4 to 8 inches for straw, hay, corn stalks, or other coarse materials. Another factor in determining the amount and type of mulch materials is the need to provide protection to foliage, flowers and fruits from soil-borne disease organisms that could splash up onto the plant and to prevent the development of fruit rots or leaf diseases.

Organic mulches

Lawn clippings, leaves, pine needles, shredded tree and shrub prunings are inexpensive and valuable resources for your landscape. Try recycling "yard trash" instead of sending it to a landfill. Yard trash can be placed in a compost pile and used later for mulch and soil conditioning.

As organic mulches decompose, the breakdown organisms use some of the soil nitrogen in contact with the mulch. Consequently, nitrogen deficiency may occur. A sign of nitrogen deficiency is a yellowing, primarily of the lower leaves of the plant. Use of nitrogen fertilizers may be necessary. Never use weed and feed type products in mulched areas.

Sheet forms of mulch

When attempting to garden in an area infested with perennial weeds or grasses the use of chemical controls may make gardening undesirable for several months. A program that involves cultivation of the area followed by application of needed fertilizers, and finally covering the area with black polyethylene. Plants can immediately be placed through slits in the plastic.

Fabric barriers are air and water permeable in most cases. However, on slopes water may run off the fabric rather than penetrating into the soil. Some weeds have been known to grow through the barrier.

Photodegradable films disintegrate under the exposure to ultraviolet light in a time-released manner that usually lasts through one growing season. Shading from plants may block Ultra Violet light from sections of the film allowing remnants of the plastic to remain in the soil.

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