Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What I Learned About Mulch...

So why am I having this plant sale? Why bother? Well my garden seems to have exploded in fertility in the past 2 springs.
It all started about 4 years ago when I ordered mulch. Little did I know that the size of the mulch chunks had a huge effect on the garden! I used to mulch every spring because my mulch would deteriorate so fast. I really liked the small chunk dark brown mulch. It made a nice dark background in the garden and made the plant -to-mulch look much more dramatic. Well shoot, what I did not know was that I layed the mulch too thick and air did not flow between the small chunks very well at all. The result was an expensive lesson in fungi invasion and crown rot disease. I lost a lot of plants and a few expensive ones. I had to thin out that layer of mulch and allow it to deteriorate completely. I kept the soil bare for 3 summers/winters. My hope was to take away the habitat that the fungi needed and they would dissipate. It seems to have worked ok. What I did not expext was the seed germination boom that I had. Without my mulch layer seeds were exposed to the sun and germinated. Whoa- jungle city.

So how do you prevent this fungi problem? There are few things to remember about mulching a garden, here they are:
-Mulch with small chunk mulch once a year @ 1-2" thick
-OR Mulch with larger chunk mulch and make it 3" thick and mulch every other year.
-Never- mulch right up to the stem of the plant- you will smother it and or keep the environment too moist and fungi will develop, this goes for annuals to perennials to shrubs and especially trees.
When mulch gets compacted, fluff it to provide air circulation under it. Otherwise fingi will begin to grow. This is usually needed in spring after snow has compacted it.

I am sure you are asking right now- why bother? Can't I just lay down that rubber stuff in a rainbow of colors?
Ahhh no, speaking from a plant/soil health point of view, natural wood mulch is far superior to all other options. Including stone mulch. Wood mulch deteriorates because the soil organisms are breaking it down, this results in a substance called humus (not the delicious dip from Greece) . Humus (hyoo mes) is a part of the soil make up and it is needed for it's nutrients. Basically your much breaks down and provides a little fertilizer for your plants. Cool.
Some other good reasons for mulching your garden are:
Cools the soil and keeps roots at a constant temperature. Reduces water loss from hot summer temps
Prevents weeds
Provides a uniform soil covering

Breaks down and feeds the plants
Prevents winter heaving by keeping the soil at a constant temp
Prevent seeds from germinating
You do need to replenish your mulch layer every 1-2 years.

The draw backs to the other mulch alternatives are many but the advantages of natural wood mulch outway the disadvantages.
Stone mulch heats up in the sun and heats the soil- water loss is the result. Almost impossible to get rid of without a backhoe.
Rubber- EXPENSIVE! Those colors are tacky too, Don't even get me started on dyes red mulch- sheesh!
Fabric- does not allow all the water to pass through it and weeds grow on top of it anyway.

Well I hoped this helped you, and as always- leave me a question or two.

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