Although the nights are chilly now, the days are still warm. The soil is still retaining its warmth too, gently heated by the months of higher temperatures over the summer. Autumn is a great time for mulching.
So what is mulching and why should you do it? Read on to discover just what is so magical about mulching.
What is a mulch, anyway?
A mulch is simply a layer or sheet of material placed on top of the soil, in beds, borders or containers. Mulches fall into two main groups: biodegradable and non-biodegradable. In Team Biodegradable, you’ll find all kinds of good stuff like bark chips, compost (bought or home-made), leaf mould, seaweed and well-rotted manure. For the Non-Biodegradables, we have finishes like slate, gravel, stone chippings, and crushed seashells.
The main difference is that biodegradable mulches add nutrients to the soil as they decompose, but they will need replacing. The non-biodegradable finishes don’t add any nutrients to the soil, but can potentially last longer – although they will too eventually need replenishing.
So what are the benefits of mulching?
There are many benefits of mulching. They include:
• Insulating the ground, helping retain warmth
• Helping protect plants from extreme hot and cold temperatures
• Suppressing weeds
• Reducing evaporation, helping retain soil moisture and reducing watering
• Adding nutrients to the soil (biodegradable only)
• Adding organic matter to soil (biodegradable only)
• Deterring some pests
• Providing a decorative finish
That all sounds very convincing. How should I mulch my garden?
It’s a very simple job to do. Simply acquire plenty of your mulch of choice. Weed and water your garden, and spread your mulch generously over the areas of bare soil you want to protect. The layer needs to be between 5 and 7.5cm (2 to 3 inches) deep to be effective. Depending on your mulch of choice, you can use a ground rake to spread it evenly, either with the teeth pointing down, or pointing up to give a smooth finish to a mulch like gravel, for instance.
Try to avoid piling up the mulch against the stems of woody plants, where you want good air circulation, and if you’re mulching trees or specimen shrubs, keep the radius of the canopy clear. Don’t worry about covering up spring bulbs, as they’ll easily find their way through the mulch layer when it’s time to start growing.
And autumn’s a good time to mulch?
Yes, autumn’s a great time, as it insulates the ground, keeping hold of summer warmth. It also prevents waterlogging over the winter, as water drains away through the mulch. It prevents topsoil being washed or blown away by winter storms. And as it’s likely you’ll be in the garden less over the winter months, it’ll keep weeds at bay until the spring.
But autumn’s not the only time to mulch. Spring is also a good time, before weeds have germinated, as it prevents them taking hold. In addition, any new plants will benefit from mulching, as it helps keep water and nutrients in the soil.
Mulch your garden in autumn, and you’ll protect it over the winter to come, and come the spring you’ll need to spend less time and resource on weeding, feeding and watering. So get mulching – and enjoy those magical results!