Mulch is one of the most important elements of the garden. It nourishes your soil, helps retain moisture, protects plants against temperature fluctuations, and gives a polished look to your landscape. But it’s equally important to know how to use it. With so much information out there, it’s easy to get smothered without finding the nourishment you need. Here are the simple answers to common questions!
How To Apply Mulch Correctly
- Begin by weeding and smoothing the ground you wish to mulch. Keep in mind that it’s easier to weed before the mulch is there.
- Next, edge any borders of your lawn to ensure the mulch doesn’t spill onto your grass. Dig down a few inches along pathway edges, if necessary, so your mulch will be flush with the surface level.
- Using a wheelbarrow, bucket, or a bag of mulch, unload small mounds around the area you wish to mulch.
- Using a rake or your hands, spread out the mounds evenly to your desired depth of 2-4”.
- It’s important to leave a gap of at least 1-2” around any tree trunks or plant stems to prevent stem rot and let air circulate to the roots.
- Step back and drink in the beauty of your fresh mulch.
What To Do About Slime Mold
What’s that unsightly stew of gray, yellow, or orange mush on your mulch? It’s technically not mold or fungus, but it’s not a plant or animal either. Slime mold is in a class of its own, more similar to an amoeba and some types of seaweed. They only feed on decaying plant matter so they won’t trouble your plants. In fact, they may be helping them by consuming harmful pathogens and bacteria. But due to its ugly look, most gardeners want to remove it.
When it first appears, it will be moist and slimy. Be careful not to spread it by raking it or stepping on it. After a few days, it will harden, at which point you can easily scoop it up with a shovel and dispose of it into the trash. If you leave it too long, it will mature and spread spores to other parts of your garden.
To prevent it from coming back in the future, rake your mulch occasionally to let any moist patches dry in the air and sunlight. This is a good practice to prevent any kind of fungal growth and allows water to penetrate through the mulch more easily.
The Best Way To Water Mulched Beds
Many of the same rules apply to watering mulched gardens as they do for unmulched beds. The cardinal rule is to water deeply. This lets the water break through the top layer of mulch and penetrate deep into the soil. The deeper moisture encourages plants to grow deeper roots, making them more drought-resistant in the long run. A soaker hose or drip irrigation line is a great way to get the slow, deep watering you want. They also spare the leaves from getting wet, which is another basic rule of watering. Dry leaves mean less risk of fungus.
How do you know if your plants need water? Typically you would probe the soil with your finger. With mulch on top, you’ll need to brush it away to succeed with the finger test. If the soil below is dry up to your second knuckle, then it’s time to give the plants a drink.
The Pros and Cons of Common Mulches
Let’s dig into the common varieties of mulch to discover the best choice for your garden.
Bark mulch and wood chips are the most popular option for residential landscapes. They give both a beautiful look and smell to a yard. Larger chunks take longer to decompose, which may be advantageous in areas with foot traffic. Smaller nuggets nourish the soil more quickly as they break down. You may find wood chips colored with non-toxic dyes. They lend charm to some landscapes but may take longer to decompose. Longer lasting mulches save you money in the long run, as you won’t have to add fresh layers as often. However, fresh mulch is often the easiest way to improve the look and feel of a landscape and help build the soil. All wood-based mulches are great around trees, shrubs, perennials, and even annuals.
Straw is becoming a popular choice for vegetable gardens. It breaks down faster than wood mulch, giving your vegetables lots of nutrients during the growing season. Sometimes it can attract slugs if it’s a wet year or rodents if you layer it too much. Make sure you select straw that is free of weed seeds and mold.
Grass Clippings are another popular choice for the vegetable plot. You can get them free every time you mow your lawn. The advantage is that they decompose quickly, but the cons are that they may become matted and untidy. Grass that has been sprayed with pesticides is not suitable for mulch on the vegetable plot.
Leaf Mulch is typically available in the fall. It provides a great compost to your plants as it breaks down and provides overwintering habitat for many beneficial insects. The downside is that it may look a little tired by the springtime.
If you have more questions, feel free to contact us, drop by our garden center in Moline, or check out our blog on river rock vs. mulch. We’re happy to spread our layers of knowledge to help you enjoy the many benefits of mulching!