Mulch provides multiple benefits in the home garden and landscape. Every mulch provides certain advantages and drawbacks, according to its unique composition. By choosing the best mulch and using it appropriately, you will see the greatest possible benefit from this important gardening technique.
Mulch improves nutrient content and soil structure, leading to healthier plants with stronger roots. This, in turn, keeps insect pests and diseases at bay, as they more frequently and severely attack stressed plants. Mulch preserves moisture content in soil and keeps weeds to a minimum. It also prevents soil temperature fluctuation, maintaining a cool, even temperature ideal for plant growth.
Mulch costs money, depending on the material. Inorganic mulch fails to improve soil as organic mulch does and proves difficult to remove from an area in many cases. The wrong type of mulch may increase the temperature in the immediate area surrounding plants or make future planting difficult. Examples of this include white rock which reflects sun and heat on to plants and plastic mulch which makes future planting more time- and work-intensive.
Some mulches change the pH of soil or reduce soil quality over time. Use organic mulch for best results. Choose mulch with properties missing from your local soil. For example, peat moss retains great amounts of moisture, so consider adding some to sandy soils. On the other hand, peat moss added to clay soil only compounds the problem of poor drainage.
Add mulch whenever plants appear to need it, observable by yellowing leaves, limited blooming or overall poor plant growth. Apply two to four inches of organic mulch when you first plant an area and annually thereafter as a topdressing. Mulch in the spring to provide nutrients throughout the growing season or in the fall as added protection against winter damage.
By following these guidelines for mulching, you will save yourself time and energy in maintaining your landscaped areas. Purchasing a soil testing kit or taking a soil sample to your local county extension office provides you with a detailed report of the nutrient content and overall health of your soil. This allows you to make the best possible choice regarding mulch use in your garden.
Peggy Musial, “Mulch Types: Advantages vs. Disadvantages,” Orlando Sentinel
J.E. Klett; “Mulches for Home Grounds,” Colorado State University Extension