When you think of mulch, wood chips are probably the first thing that comes to mind. But mulch is anything that provides cover for your soil.
Mulches are used to control weeds and plant diseases. They help maintain soil moisture and regulate temperature. Using compost or cover crops as mulch adds organic matter to soil. In landscaping, mulch is often applied for aesthetic purposes. Nothing looks more fresh and finished than a layer of rich, dark mulch!
Wood chips and bark. Tree and shrub roots are mostly contained in the top two feet of ground. Applying wood chip mulch at the base of trees and shrubs protects roots and prevents root exposure.
Wood chip mulch between garden rows minimizes soil compaction in high traffic areas. Since wood chips take years to decompose, this kind of mulch works best in raised bed gardens where mulch won’t mix with soil and hinder future planting.
Newspaper. Un-glossy newspapers are typically printed with soy-based ink, which is harmless to soil and plants. To use newspaper as mulch, layer 2-5 sheets around plant base. Weigh papers down with dirt or a heavier layer of lawn waste.
Newspaper mulch can be left to decompose in the garden after the season has ended. Here is a before and after picture of my newspaper mulched garden in May and October.
Straw is my favorite mulch for overwintering alliums. It also makes a great mulch for potato plants because it prevents sunlight exposure, which causes taters to turn green and toxic.
Plastic or landscaping fabric can be used to choke out weeds and prepare a surface for planting without tillage. It also warms soil, allowing gardeners to plant warm weather crops earlier.
Plastic maintains soil moisture but also prevents the ground from absorbing irrigation. Remember, plants drink through roots, not leaves. Run drip irrigation lines under plastic or cut plastic to leave more ground exposed to irrigation.
Plastic mulch has a reputation of being environmentally unfriendly. I get at least three seasons use before disposing of plastic by pulling it up after the season has ended and storing it in my dry hayloft.
Grass clippings, leaves and yard waste make free and effective mulch. Allow clippings to dry before application. Mix grass and leaves with heavier components, such as finished compost, to keep mulch from blowing away.
Other mulches to consider
- Living green mulches/cover crops: clover, rye, triticale or wheat
- Pine needles
- Moldy forest leaves