More and more people want to get in touch with nature due to our fast way of living which has made us grow apart from the greenery that surrounds us. More and more people take up hobbies such as gardening, fruit-growing, etc. If done on a smaller scale, these hobbies do not take up a lot of time, are relaxing, and can be very rewarding if done right. This of course means that even if these hobbies are easy to pick up, they always offer additional ways of perfecting their craft and getting more out of your time (and money!).
When talking about gardening, one of the more hidden and less thought of ways of helping your plants reach the stage of maturity is mulching. What is mulching? Well, in short, when you mulch, you put a layer of another material onto the soil where your plants are in order to either protect them or give them additional food. Mulched soil can also look plenty better if certain techniques are used. Therefore, there are a lot of benefits to using mulch, but certain restrictions always apply and it’s better to consult a source beforehand.
In order be that source and to avoid using trial and error and help you be on your way to a beautiful and healthy garden, this article will:
- name 2 different types of mulch
- outline most common mulch materials and their benefits
- compare the most common types of mulch
- give our opinion on whether mulching is right for you or not
When using mulch, and as was mentioned before, you can basically use it for better garden productivity or to simply make your hard garden work look better. If former is your choice, then you want to use organic mulch, such as bark, straw, or wood chips, whereas if you’re only interested in the latter and feel your garden is doing well on it’s own, you can opt for non-organic materials which will not decompose and will, therefore, be present for longer. These include but are not limited to special gardening fabric and plastic materials or simple rocks. If you’re an advanced user, however, you’re in luck. Some mulch types will help you in both of these ways, as with enough creativity, patience, and perseverance, you’ll make your backyard both a sight to behold AND a successful mini-farm.
Organic mulch types
As we have previously mentioned, organic mulch will decompose around your plants and enrich the soil, essentially improving it and the chances of your plants living up to your expectations. This does mean that you’ll have to replace it though, so fair warning beforehand!
Compost is one of the most popular types of mulch due to it being easy to understand and make. To make compost, simply deposit your organic waste in a special container that is protected from too much temperature variation. It’s also important to provide a bit of soil underneath the pile, so doing your compost heap on an earth base is most appropriate.
“Green” garden composting materials such as grass clippings or kitchen waste are very common and make the majority of compost. The rest are the so-called “brown” materials, such as wood chippings, shredded branches, straw, or even stems of various plants.
Composting also requires turning to mix the materials a bit and quite a long time (6 months to 2 years!) to be completely ready. However, this is not the biggest “con” of using compost as mulch.
The biggest drawback is the fact that besides enriching the soil, compost does not really check any of the other boxes you would think mulching would need. It does not protect from weeds or conserve water and can also invite pests instead of repelling them.
Therefore, if compost is your choice, you might want to think about pairing it up with some other non-organic materials in order to get the most of your mulching efforts.
Shredded leaves and wood chips
Unlike compost, wood chips go a lot more for the mulching properties and improve your garden look. Shredded leaves do a bit of both since they will decompose quickly but can also look really nice with different colors that you might get.
These kinds of mulch materials are relatively inexpensive and easy to get by. You can get them at garden centers but also find them in your own backyards, especially if you have a larger yard with a lot of trees. Therefore, you can mulch and still save money by finding the materials on your own.
Some of the drawbacks are that wood chips are best utilized on the soil that will not be dug often as it will get in your way and cause more annoyance than anything else. Therefore, flower beds are not the ideal place for wood chip mulch, and you’re better off using them for trees or bushes.
Leaves, on the other hand, while free and good for keeping moisture and are a lot less intrusive to digging as they can be moved around more easily, could even keep TOO MUCH of moisture and prevent good airflow, which is counter productive to what you’re trying to accomplish.
Therefore, we recommend leaves as a starting point while you’re thinking about other mulch materials, while wood chips are great if you have a lot of permanent plants.
Similarly to wood chips, bark comes from the same place but is instead focused on the outer part of a tree. When shredded, bark will keep the materials (such as moisture) you want around your plants easily and for a long time. It also looks very nice, as in our opinion the brown matches really well with the contrast of greenery you’re hopefully very proud of.
Bark shares the drawbacks with wood chips, as the sheer number of bark shredding will be annoying to move around so it should be used where not a lot of digging will be done. Also, do not use bark on slopes! If it rains, you’ll find it everywhere!
Inorganic mulch materials
As with everything in our lives, technology has given additional options to mulch materials as well. Inorganic mulch materials are specialized to give as many pros and as little cons as possible at the same time. However, when going synthetic, you must know that no matter what, it will not decompose on its own and improve the soil like organics would so you might want to deal with this beforehand. On the other hand, inorganic mulch won’t need replacements under normal conditions which can also be an attractive option to more hands-off gardeners.
Plastic and rubber fabric
Black plastic is one of the most popular mulching options nowadays. For the uninitiated, it may seem strange that gardeners would put plastic near their plants, but give it a thought. Black plastic attracts sunlight, keeping the soil warm and it will not allow too much water to evaporate since it’s non-porous, but proper drainage will also prevent rotting in those plants which do not love too much water, such as strawberries.
Plastic does require some forethought as the mulch should have punched holes in it which are of appropriate size to prevent overgrowth of the plants which would clash with the plastic and make the plants not get enough oxygen and/or water.
Overall, plastic and rubber are great choices when you’re comfortable enough to say that you know what you’re doing in your garden. It works a whole lot better than one would expect while not having a lot of drawbacks, as long as you’re prepared to keep an eye on your garden to fix any mistakes in planning that might have occurred.
While plastic is very rigid and only allows as much water and air as you choose via the holes you make, there are some fabrics that allow both in plentiful amounts.
These fabrics are also called geotextiles and are porous to allow the nutrients to pass through. For this exact reason, however, they are not the most durable so it is recommended that they are paired with a second layer of mulch in order to improve their durability and their looks.
The porousness goes both ways as well, so it would be wise to watch out for weeds and shrubs which can “grow into” the fabric making it completely useless and increasing the difficulty of weed removal – the very reason you would want mulch in the first place.
Now, this is an interesting one. glass mulch does not decompose at all and we all have at least once found removing glass from the soil extremely annoying. So, why use glass as mulch? Well, it looks absolutely amazing, especially if you have a lot of differently colored bottles whose shards you could use. It will look colorful and fit in your front yard seamlessly, no matter the plants.
On the other hand, be sure to keep safe when destroying your bottles in order to get the shards and use another layer between the soil and the glass itself. Plastic or even the fabric will do very nicely in this case.
So, should you mulch?
Now that we’d given you examples of mulching materials, it’s time to ask yourself the big question – is mulching for you? Should you employ mulching in your garden?
While the ultimate answer depends only on you, there are a few things to keep in mind.
There is no real downside to mulching – when you consider what mulching brings to the plate as opposed to what it requires out of you, you might struggle to see why you would not use mulching in your garden. Firstly, it isn’t all that expensive and, as we outlined above with different examples can be even free if you’re willing to do the work with leaves and wood chips. Secondly, garden work is hard work in itself, and mulching does not require a lot of extra effort on top of what you’re already done when compared to all the benefits it will bring. Mulching today can also remove the need for weeding tomorrow, so if you think about it, you’re actually saving yourself some effort.
Are you an aesthetic, creative type? – While mulching can make your garden shine a little bit more if your backyard is for your eyes only and you do not really care about its looks, plus you cannot be bothered with planning and contrasting different colors, perhaps you should decide against mulch or simply go for the options which are more organic and will help more with your soil by decomposing instead. Luckily for you, those are also numerous and easily obtainable, making your choice all that harder.
Is your garden soil rich with nutrients? – We already outlined the numerous benefits of composting. In this way, especially if mixing compost and other mulch materials, mulching can help you actually improve your soil which is the number one prerequisite to having a successful garden. On the other hand, if your soil is already producing what you expect it to, then perhaps mulch is not as needed as you might imagine.
Well, there it is. Whether it’s organic mulch materials you choose, such as bark, wood chippings or leaves, or inorganic, such as plastic, rubber, or textiles, we hope you will choose what fits you best. Even if you do not, mulching is something you can always improve on. Keep in mind that all the benefits mulching brings will not come without proper planning and care, even if after you mulch your garden you can keep more of a hands-off approach.
Choosing one type of mulch over another does not mean you’ll never be able to choose the other again, as it is indeed a reversible process so be open-minded and experiment, but do follow common sense and follow advice from experiments already undertaken so your trial and error does not veer too much onto the side of error.