Organic Gardening: Mulch Ado About Nothing?
I love the sound of the word ‘mulch’. It sounds…,warm and earthy and wholesome.
But the thing that I love most about mulch is that it is such a simple, yet effective, way to get the most out of your organic garden all year round. While growing your own organic vegetables may seem intimidating to some, something as simple as using mulch can go a long way to helping you get that garden flourishing!
In fact, mulching is often totally undervalued.
The Benefits of Mulch
Not only will your garden be less prone to weeds and pests, mulching is also a great way to preserve moisture in the soil (and also save you time on watering). Use mulch in winter to keep a consistent soil temperature and save your organic garden from the bite of icy cold weather and protect the roots of your precious crops.
While not all forms of mulching are organic, the upside of using organic mulch is that you’ll add one more benefit to the list – you’ll be enriching the soil with organic matter too! And all of these benefits can come at a price that no one can resist – absolutely free!
Cheap and Easy Mulch
There are a bunch of things you can use as mulch, but we want to focus on the materials that are at your fingertips and that won’t cost you a cent.
So here’s a little guide to using what you may have at your disposal for mulch:
NOTE: When applying your mulch, make sure you leave a 5 cm diameters clear of mulch around the base of the plant, until the seedling is 12cm high.
Fantastic for organic vegetable gardening (just make super sure that no herbicide or chemicals were used on the grass prior to you using it, and there are no grass seeds) and, if you have a lawn of your own, in ready (and cheap) supply. Grass clippings, which decompose quite quickly in warm weather, are great to use as mulch as they give the soil a good boost and act as a great protector against weeds.
It’s best to let the grass clippings dry out a little before using them as mulch. Start off with a good 5cm of grass clippings and reapply often. Don’t try to save yourself time by layering them on thick – they will in all likelihood flatten down to create a water barrier – which is no good.
Dried leaves are a great way to banish weeds, but it should be noted that it’s best to crush or shred the leaves before using them. Whole leaves tend to either blow away or, end up acting as a barrier against water. Leaves decompose quite quickly and give the soil a great nutrient boost!
Like the grass clippings, start with a 5cm layer and replenish as required. With any luck, when next you dig into the soil mulched with leaves, you’ll see plenty of earthworms, and we LOVE earthworms!
If you have access to these, they’ll make a great mulch for any acid-loving plants and berries – as well as smelling great and looking neat and trim. Pine needles decompose slowly but still allow plenty of water through – perfect for any areas of your garden that require a long-lasting mulch. While pine needles come from a plant that generally favours acidic conditions, using the needles on your beds shouldn’t cause much of change in your soil pH.
Ah, black gold! There’s no better way to stimulate microbial activity and inject nutrients into the soil. If you make your own compost, then you’ll have your own steady supply. Which is a good thing, as compost will need to be replenished often. The one drawback of using compost as mulch is that it doesn’t protect against weeds. A 5cm layer is advisable.
Maybe add some crushed leaves over your layer of compost or some dried grass, for the added benefit of keeping weeds at bay!
- Make sure you get rid of any weeds before you beginning mulching
- Spread the mulch evenly on the bare soil between and around plants
- Lay down your mulch after you’ve watered or after a good soaking rain
- Keep mulch about 2-3cm from plant stems – wet mulch can cause plant stems to rot
- During the rainy season, and in slug-prone areas, remember that organic mulches can be irresistible to these slimy guests so put some beer slug/snail traps, or go snail hunting to get rid of these greedy pests.