Mulch is a gardener’s best friend! Not only will it keep your flower (or vegetable) beds weed-free, it will help retain moisture in the soil, reduce runoff, and regulate the soil temperature. Besides all that, mulch pathways provide a place to walk and work around the beds which helps reduce compaction of the soil.
With all of these benefits, you will become a believer in mulching around all of your flower beds. Do it right the first time to avoid headaches!
Leaves as Mulches
In my yard, I have lots of leaves every fall, and leaves just so happen to make great mulch. According to The Vegetable Gardeners Bible by Edward C. Smith, the reason is because the roots of the trees reach deep into the soil and draw out trace minerals. Before you can unleash those nutrients on your plants, they need to be shredded.
They also make great mulch on the lawn, so long as they are spread thin enough to allow light and moisture in. (So, that’s great news” don’t worry about raking up every leaf on your lawn in the fall!)
I use black plastic mulches to serve several purposes. First, plastic mulches prevent weed growth. Second, black plastic mulches help to warm the soil. Be careful,however, when using plastic mulches, as they prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the soil, and they won’t add anything beneficial to the soil.
If you are going to use plastic mulch, use a soaker hose for watering to ensure adequate moisture.
Black fabric mulches also fit this category, and have the additional benefit of allowing water and air into the soil while blocking weed growth.
Any sort of plant or organic-based matter qualifies as organic mulch. This includes straw, hay, pine needles, leaves, and even living plants. This category also includes cardboard, newspaper, and wood chips. Let’s examine each and explore the pros and cons.
Straw is the easiest mulch to make and most commonly used. It produces less viable seeds than hay mulch, making it an ideal candidate for covering your soil. Straw bales can be purchased at most greenhouses or nurseries. Check the newspaper classifieds, Craigslist or even your area’s Facebook buy and sell groups to purchase directly from farms.
Living mulches make excellent cover crops and can offer structure and beauty to your garden. Keeping the plants trimmed back and mowed before they flower (or even working them into the soil) is an excellent way to frame a bed and infuse nutrients.
Pine needle mulches should only be used for acid-loving plants, as they will lower the pH of the soil.
Cardboard and newspaper have a tendency to shed rain water, and that will work against most gardeners. They will, however, effectively block weeds and help to regulate the soil temperature. When using newspaper, two or three layers are enough. Lay it down as a base and cover with straw or grass clippings. Be sure to cut 4-inch holes in the paper where the flowers will protrude through it. The mulch should not even touch the plants.
In the United States, most newspapers now use soy-based inks which are environmentally friendly and safe to use.
What will you mulch your flower beds with?
Smith, Edward C., The Vegetable Gardeners Bible, 2nd Edition. Storey Publishing, 2009 Print.