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Mulch
The Organic Solution For All Your Weeding Worries

What's in this article?
           Introduction
           Definition
           Mulch Will End Your Weeding Problems
           Mulch Will Reduce Your Water Bills
           Mulch Will Maintain Even Soil Temperature
           Mulch Will Prevent Erosion
           Mulch Enriches the Soil
           Mulch Improves the Appearance of Your Garden
           How Can I Mulch?
           Is Mulch Organic?


  Introduction  

         You're standing in 90 degree heat being scorched by the relentless rays of the merciless sun. Your back is aching, your feet are numb with pain, and your face and neck are singed with sunburn. Every time you move shock waves roll through your cracked nerves. You guessed it: You're weeding - the most hated gardening chore of just about everyone. Whether you have a garden or just like to keep your front yard in good shape, it's something that almost all of us have to deal with. What can we do to make it a little less...traumatic? The answer is simple: Mulch.

         Unfortunately, most people do not see how easy mulch can be to use. They run to their Home Depots and Hechingers and waste their money on overpriced herbicides, weed pulling gizmos, and other useless paraphernalia. But trust me; this is not the answer. When people first walk into their garden supply stores, they are desperate. They want to find the quickest, easiest, and fastest way to obliterate the weed problem. They look for a miracle cure when the perfect solution is right under their nose. What do I mean by that?
Mulch, by definition, is a protective covering (usually of organic materials) spread or left on the ground to control weeds, reduce evaporation, maintain even soil temperature, prevent erosion, enrich the soil, or improve garden appearance. Mulch is made of the yard waste that we have the garbage men cart away. You do not have to pay a cent to get mulch, the miracle solution to practically every gardening problem.
         In the bold definition, I mentioned a lot of the positive effects of mulch. I'd like to take a little time to address each of these benefits one at a time:

  Mulch Will End Your Weeding Problems  

         Yes, I mean it. Apply a thick helping of mulch and you will never pull another weed. Weeds are not supernatural plants. They abide by the same rules as their more desirable counterparts. Even the most prolific and indestructible weeds need a few basic things: air, water, sunlight, and soil. Mulch takes away the sunlight that all developing weeds desperately need. Basically, the mulch will keep the sun from penetrating to the leaves of the weeds. Without sunlight, the weeds cannot make their food. Without food they quickly die. Your last weeding will be the one right before you apply a generous helping of mulch.

  Mulch Will Reduce Your Water Bills  

         Before I began to use mulch, I wasted a lot of time and money watering my plants. It seemed that they were always drying out, no matter how frequently I watered. After I applied mulch, that problem was quickly forgotten. Mulch covers the soil. It prevents the sunlight from striking the soil directly, and distributes the sun's heat throughout its entire depth. Less intense heat means reduced evaporation. And reduced evaporation means reduced water bills. The mulch will also hold in water from rainfalls, further reducing your watering burden. Mulch maintains a constant level of moisture in the soil. Constant moisture is essential for many delicate veggies, especially tomatoes (whose skin cracks under unregulated moisture levels.)

  Mulch Will Maintain Even Soil Temperature  

         Even soil temperature is critical to the success of any garden. If the soil becomes too hot or too cold in an area, the health and productivity of the plants in that soil will suffer dramatically. Mulch will also correct this problem. As I mentioned before, a layer of mulch will distribute heat from the sun over the entire surface of your garden. This coating of heat will diffuse into your soil evenly. As a result your soil temperature will remain constant throughout the garden. A constant soil temperature is extremely important, especially for sensitive plants like tomatoes and lettuce.

  Mulch Will Prevent Erosion  

         Yes, mulch can also prevent erosion. But how? Erosion occurs when the layer of topsoil on your garden is washed or blown away. Mulch forms an insulating layer between your topsoil and the elements. A stiff wind will be unable to penetrate the thick layer of mulch protecting your topsoil. Mulch reduces a deluge of rain to a trickle by distributing the water throughout its depth and gradually delivering it to the topsoil. This trickle effect keeps the soil from being washed away. We all know that a thorough network of shallow roots will hold on to the topsoil and prevent erosion. These roots need protection to form close to the surface. Mulch provides three to six inches of this protection. Free from the dehydrating sun and destructive forces of wind and water, the roots may develop inside a comfort zone. These roots will hold on to the topsoil in the most torrential of rainstorms. Mulch is a must for shallow rooted plants, especially leafy vegetables like lettuce and herbs, because it protects their vulnerable roots.

  Mulch Enriches the Soil  

         Mulch enriches the soil through a process called sheet composting. A layer of mulch, which is always made of 100% organic materials, will gradually decompose on your garden. While protecting your plants from erosion, evaporation, heat and weeds, mulch will also make your soil more productive. The mulch is applied at the beginning of the season. Throughout the spring and summer it breaks down into simpler compounds (A result of the actions of microscopic organisms called decomposers.) When the mulch is completely decomposed it is called humus. The plants use the simple compounds in the humus as the building blocks to support new growth. Mulch will also attract beneficial organisms, like earthworms, to your garden. From day one these little guys go to work for you and your plants. They break down the mulch, replace it with humus, aerate your soil, and perform other useful functions. By the end of the growing season your garden will be covered with three inches of composted plant matter (see the compost article), ready to be turned into your soil (which your plants have stripped of important organic compounds.) All you have to do is turn the compost into the soil to regenerate it for next year's occupants.

  Mulch Improves the Appearance of Your Garden  

         Have you ever seen garden beds with bare soil showing. There is one word to describe them: UGLY! Mulch will make your beds look beautiful and professional.

  How Can I Mulch?  

         Mulching is easy. Begin to collect your everyday yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, sticks, dead plant matter, shredded bark) and household materials that originate from plants (like sawdust, newspaper clippings, vegetable and fruit peelings, etc.) If you have the capability, chop these materials up into small pieces. You now have an option. You can use the materials right away and allow them to decompose right on your beds/garden. Or, you could pile them up to form a compost pile and remove them when they are partially decomposed. I think that the best way is to pre-compost the materials. The mulch looks much better if it is partially composted; it takes on a darker color and the individual components cannot be recognized. If someone looks at your garden/beds and sees grass clippings and leaves, they will think that you forgot to clean up your yard waste from the fall. To partially compost, you should follow these steps:

  • Chop up the materials
  • Pile the materials in a very large pile
  • Keep the pile moist and in contact with the ground
  • Mix the pile as often as possible (to provide the decomposers with air)
  • Check the pile weekly (Your mulch is done when you can only recognize the sticks and larger items - not the leaves, grass, and newspaper clippings - and it is much darker with an earthy smell.)
  • Keep this in mind! A bigger pile and more chopped up materials means faster decompostion. You don't want to compost all the way, though. As soon as the grass clippings, leaves, vegetable peels, and newspapers disappear, apply the mulch to your beds

         If you are unable (or simply don't have the will power) to do all this, don't sweat it. Uncomposted mulch will be just as effective. When you apply the mulch to the soil, you want to keep one thing in mind: DON'T BE STINGY! Pile it on! A layer of mulch should be from 3 to 6 inches deep. A heavy layer of mulch will prevent weeds from poking through; however, don't pile it on too high. The soil needs to get air and water (to sustain the soil organisms and your plants). So if you've covered your garden to waist level, you've used way too much! One more tidbit: I recommend that you cover the areas that are most difficult to reach first. That way, you won't step on your layer of mulch during your trip to another area (compacted mulch is much less effective than loose mulch).

         To supply a generous coating you need to produce a lot of mulch. This means that you need a lot of dead plant matter, especially if you are composting the materials (It shrinks during decomposition). The mulch can be a mixture of all the materials mentioned above, or it can be composed of a single organic material. If you cannot make your own you could inquire about a mulching program in your county or township. You could also purchase some mulch at a garden center and haul it home on your own, or buy through a mulch supplier that offers free delivery (the mulch you buy will be the same quality as the stuff you make). BUYER BEWARE: Wood chips may look nice but they do have shortcomings - they are expensive and can take years to decompose! Most homemade mulches or leaf mulches will decompose completely in a single growing season.

         Once you have applied your mulch, sit back and relax. The mulch will drastically cut your watering, weeding, and soil erosion. It will also contribute to the health of your plants. A light re-mulching may be necessary around midseason - other than that, your mulch will be maintenance free.

  Is Mulch Organic?  

         Gardening does not get more organic than mulching. If we look at the forests of our world we quickly see that mulching was really a concept of Mother Nature. All deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall. These leaves coat the ground with a thick layer of organic matter. This natural mulch ensures a long and healthy life for the tree, the soil organisms, and all other forms of forest life. By modeling our gardens after nature's example, we are using natural techniques to help our plants grow. These techniques, which are perfectly suited to the environment, work faster and safer than any other man-made solutions. But there are more reasons to reject herbicides, plastic mulches, and excessive irrigation. These unnatural methods are not real solutions; not only are they environmentally irresponsible, but in the end, they fail to create lasting effects on the problems that they sought to correct. Oftentimes they worsen conditions. For example, herbicides can have negative effects on the plants that you want in your garden. These harmful chemicals end up in our lakes and streams and pollute our water supply. They kill the organisms in the soil, organisms that contribute to the well being of your plants. And these chemicals are passed through the roots of the vegetation to the harvest; they are present in the vegetables that you eat from the garden. I urge you to choose the environmentally safe, easy, fast, and foolproof solution to almost all of your horticultural problems. Choose mulch, the miracle cure to practically any garden grievance.



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