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To Mulch or Not to Mulch? And When?

What is Mulch and Why is it Important?

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Mulch can be anything that covers the soil. It ‘s purpose is to retain moisture and prevent weeds, and help maintain soil temperature. It can be applied at different times of the year depending on the purpose. Towards the beginning of the growing season mulches serve initially to warm the soil by helping it retain heat which is lost during the night. This allows early seeding and transplanting of certain crops, and encourages faster growth. As the season progresses, mulch stabilizes the soil temperature and moisture,  and prevents the growing of weeds .

While mulch forms a layer between the soil and the atmosphere which prevents sunlight from reaching the soil surface, it can also prevent water from reaching the soil by absorbing or blocking water from light rains. This is why it is often applied in late spring/early summer when soil temperatures have risen sufficiently, but soil moisture content is still relatively high.

Best Type of Mulch is Organic

In addition to being inexpensive, organic mulches decay over time and do wonders for your garden, since they return useful nutrients to the soil and can increase your yield of crops in addition to the other benefits mentioned above.

Commonly available organic mulches include:

Leaves

  • Leaves from deciduous trees, which drop their foliage in the autumn/fall. They tend to be dry and blow around in the wind, so are best chopped or shredded before application. As they decompose they adhere to each other but also allow water and moisture to seep down to the soil surface.

Grass clippings

  • Grass clippings, from mowed lawns are sometimes collected and used elsewhere as mulch. Grass clippings are dense and tend to mat down, so are best mixed with tree leaves or rough compost to provide aeration and to facilitate their decomposition without smelly putrefaction. Rotting fresh grass clippings can damage plants; Fresh green grass clippings are relatively high in nitrate content, and when used as a mulch, much of the nitrate is returned to the soil.

Peat moss

  • Peat moss, or sphagnum peat, is long lasting and packaged, making it convenient and popular.  It can also lower the pH of the soil surface, making it useful as a mulch under acid-loving plants.
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Wood chips

  • Wood chips are a byproduct of the pruning of trees by arborists, utilities and parks; they are used to dispose of bulky waste. Tree branches and large stems are rather coarse after chipping and tend to be used as a mulch at least three inches thick. The chips are used to conserve soil moisture, moderate soil temperature and suppress weed growth.

Other Facts About Mulch:

  • There is no better mulch than compost . Compost is not acidic and it doesn’t harm plants (it’s plant FOOD!).  Compost is also pretty.
  • You should not run ANY material right up to your home. Everyone in America has subterranean termites in their landscape. Subterraneans prefer to travel under cover. Mulching right up to the side of your home with anything—even stone—provides the protection and moisture they require to find their way RIGHT to your framing. Always leave at least a six-inch area clear around your home.
  • Never touch a plant with any mulch. Mulches are for preventing weeds and retaining soil moisture—they are not blankies; they do not keep plants warm or comfort them. Just the opposite, in fact: ANY mulch that’s piled up against a plant stem or tree trunk provides cover and traps moisture, inviting pests, disease and rot to destroy that poor plant. Always leave a few inches wide open around the trunk or stem.

Giordano’s carries whatever your garden needs in terms of mulch and compost. Come in and ask our staff about which is best for your garden.