Now that planting season is upon us, it is time again to consider mulching options for your garden. Mulch is important, as it aids the soil in retaining moisture, keeps the soil and the tender new plants warm in cooler weather, and keeps weeds at bay. For mulch that costs nothing and is completely free and effective, use materials which you already have on hand – you will be enhancing your garden while also recycling otherwise unused materials in the process and saving yourself money. Free and organic mulches are a good option for any garden, as they will decay over time and enrich and enhance your soil.
Leaves decompose rapidly and are full of beneficial nutrients which will be released into the soil as they decay. They are also beneficial as a food source for earthworms, which are necessary as a means of keeping your soil aerated and fertilized. Rather than discarding the piles of leaves you rake up in the autumn, use a leaf shredder to tear them into pieces and then store them until they can be used. Spread them over your garden and allow them to decompose and return to the soil.
Compost is a natural fertilizer which will improve your soil and help to feed the earthworms that are so necessary for soil health. However, be careful when using compost as a mulch, as it is highly concentrated and may prove too rich for your plants. Also, bear in mind that compost may become overly hot while decaying, due to nitrogen release, which will end up damaging your plants.
Consider using grass clippings for mulch if you find you have piles of grass left over from mowing your lawn. The clippings will decompose rapidly, releasing important nutrients into the soil. Be sure to thoroughly dry the grass before applying them to the soil, however, as the wet clippings may decay too rapidly and rot, causing unpleasant odors. Also, do not use grass clippings if your yard has been chemically treated, as this might harm your plants instead of protecting them.
Old newspapers, paper or cardboard can be effectively recycled by shredding them and using them as a non-organic but free mulch option; however, bear in mind that the ink and any chemical additives will leak into the soil and may prove harmful to your plants. Also, newspaper will not be as aesthetically pleasing as more natural options for mulch, and the non-organic material will not add any nutrients to the soil as it decays.