Why is it that we always seem to leave things to the very last minute? We wait till the hot weather comes, the plants start to look stressed and the water tank is almost empty, and only then do we remember ... Must Mulch The Garden! But then it’s too late.
So there’s no better time in the year to mulch than winter. Spread it around your garden now and take advantage of the winter rains to help moisten it.
But there are so many varieties of mulch to choose from, how do you know which is the right kind of mulch for your garden?
Well, choosing the best product isn’t as hard as it seems. Other than needing to look good, it simply has to be able to retain moisture without choking the soil and gradually break down into organic matter, which is great for the earthworms and helps to encourage microbial activity.
So let’s go through the main types and compare them.
This is a very coarse mulch that doesn’t retain moisture in itself very efficiently but does help to maintain moisture in the soil. Because of its coarse grade, it takes a long time to break down to compost the soil. Apply it no thicker than 75mm.
This is small in size, its colour doesn’t fade and it can easily absorb more moisture than the soil. Be careful not to apply it any thicker than 50mm. It also has a habit of crusting over so requires scratching of the surface every few weeks to loosen and aerate. Because it’s a fine grade, weeds can germinate and grow but are easily removed because of their shallow roots. This product breaks down quickly, so it’s good to dig into your garden, especially if you have clay soil to help with aeration.
A great product for the garden, sugarcane mulch generally comes shredded and compressed into bales. Spread it initially at about 10cm thick as it will compress over time to half that. It breaks down quite quickly, which is great for the soil but makes it quite expensive over time if you are applying it to large areas.
Straw is a good green product that can be bought in bales. Spread it about 10cm thick around the garden. It’s not generally supplied shredded, which means it will take longer to break down. It’s also cheaper than sugarcane but, unfortunately, can have a lot of seeds, which will keep you busy weeding.
Gone are the days when mushroom compost was considered good for the garden or as a water retainer. In my books, it fails miserably. Use it if you need to aerate your clayish soil, but not as a top dressing.
This is just like lucerne, but with an extra boost of nitrogen, which is great for the garden. Pea straw comes in bales and is easy to apply. It, too, is a bit seedy, but don’t be scared to chop it back into the garden as it grows.
When applying mulch, always keep it away from a plant’s trunk or central stem to avoid moisture build-up and collar rot.
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