10 Surprising Benefits of Mulch in Your Garden

10 Surprising Benefits of Mulch in Your Garden

10 Surprising Benefits of Mulch in Your Garden

Mulch — it can be a gardener’s best friend. Properly applied, mulch can help keep the soil moist, retain heat, discourage weeds, and make your garden beds look neat and tidy. Not only can it save you hours of work, mulch can also prevent damage to your plants and increase your harvest. Here’s what you need to know about mulch to get the most from this invaluable gardening tool.

What Is Mulch?

Mulch is a material that you apply on top of the soil in your garden or landscape. That’s it. That’s the whole definition. It can be practically any material — grass clippings, pine needles, newspaper, straw, shredded bark or wood chips, landscaping material, stone — you get the idea. Basically, there are two types of mulch:

Organic Mulch

If it was once alive, it’s an organic mulch. Organic mulches will decay, which can add nutrients to the soil and protect your plants in other ways. The most popular organic mulches include:

  • Tree bark
  • Wood chips
  • Straw
  • Salt hay
  • Leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Newspaper

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulches include plastic, stone, and manufactured weed cloths. They’re especially good at insulating the ground and suppressing weeds. They can be a good choice for vegetable and flower gardens also. Some popular inorganic mulches include:

  • Pea gravel
  • Marble chips
  • Black plastic
  • Landscape cloth

mulching garden

10 Benefits of Mulch

It may surprise you how beneficial mulch is for keeping your garden bountiful. Here are the top 10 benefits of mulch:

  1. Mulch slows down the evaporation of water from the soil, so you don’t have to water as often.
  2. It insulates the soil, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Your plants’ roots will love you for it. As a result, mulch is invaluable in the early spring and late fall, when temperatures can suddenly drop during the night. A layer of mulch over a freshly planted garden can help prevent frost damage. In the late fall, mulching around the base of plants can protect against unexpected early frosts and may let your garden survive a few more precious weeks of harvest time.
  3. Mulch helps reduce weed growth if applied deep enough, reducing the amount of time you have to devote to weed wacking. Even better, the weeds that do manage to grow are generally far easier to pull up.
  4. Organic mulches can improve the quality of your soil by adding nutrients as they decay.
  5. Mulch keeps soil from splashing when you water. This reduces soil erosion and can help protect soilborne diseases from spreading to your plants.
  6. Mulched plants frequently have deeper and stronger root systems than those without mulch. In addition to benefiting from more hospitable soil temperature and moisture, the plants also can grow roots into the mulch material.
  7. Organic mulch helps promote ideal conditions for earthworms, which improve soil quality by tunneling through the earth and leaving castings to fertilize it.
  8. Mulch improves the structure of your soil as it decays. It can help bind sandy soils so they don’t drain as fast. Plus, it can break up clay soils, so they drain better.
  9. It provides a friendly environment for insects that your garden loves.
  10. It looks pretty. A nice, even layer of red cedar mulch or white marble chips provides the perfect background to show off your plants.

Garden Mulching Tips

Before you apply mulch to an area, remove any weeds and level the ground to provide a relatively flat surface. Here are some other garden mulching tips to help you get the most benefit from your chosen ground cover:

  • Spread a layer of the mulching material over the entire garden bed. The depth depends on the material you’re using. Fine-textured mulch, such as wood chips or bark, should be no deeper than 2 or 3 inches to avoid smothering roots. Mulches with a coarser texture, such as pine bark nuggets, can be as deep as 4 inches. If you’re using grass clippings, hay, or shredded leaves, it should be no deeper than 2 inches.
  • Keep mulch 2 to 4 inches away from the stems of woody plants, and 6 to 12 inches away from the walls of buildings.
  • The best time to mulch new plantings is in the early spring before weeds start to germinate.
  • Give newly spread wood mulches a good drink of water. It will help prevent the growth of fungus on their surface.
  • Wood-based mulches can compete with your plants for nitrogen in the soil as they decay. Before you mulch your garden bed with wood chips or bark, give it a little extra nitrogen in the form of blood meal or another high-nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Refresh the mulch at the beginning and end of the season. Clean it out and add more if needed.

Watch out for sour mulch. Mulch that has been stored improperly can have a rotten smell caused by bacteria that grow in anaerobic conditions. Sour mulch can damage — even kill — plants, so if you get mulch that smells like vinegar, ammonia, sulfur, or silage, don’t use it. You can cure sour mulch by spreading it in a thin layer and airing it for 1 to 3 days. Even better, you can avoid sour mulch by buying from a reputable source.

AcuRite Atlas in garden

Take Your Garden to the Next Level

Mulching is one nice thing you can do for your garden. Investing in AcuRite garden technology and a home weather station can make it even better. Our technology keeps track of current humidity conditions, air pressure, and recent rainfall to help you estimate the moisture in your mulch (and the garden soil itself!) so that you can adjust your watering as needed. Work smarter, not harder, in your garden with AcuRite.

August 9, 2021
Alex Pro
February 21, 2024
Short benefits of mulching
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