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How to use mulch to improve your garden soil health

Do you mulch your garden?

I used to think mulch had more to do with aesthetics than serving a purpose, and I will confess to leaving our garden beds with the soil exposed!

The more I learn about gardening, the more I understand how important mulch is to the entire process. 

Basil and Carrots Surrounded with Mulch

Have you ever forgotten to mulch between seasons?

I’ve done this as well. I’m guilty of getting so excited about what I’m growing that I forget this important step. It seems like I’m more likely to forget in the summer. I guess because we are all shedding extra layers.

Your garden, however, needs that protection all the time. 

Why Is It Important to Add Mulch to Your Garden?

Mulch…

  • helps regulate the temperature of the soil (helps keep the ground from freezing in the winter and from getting too hot in the summer)
  • helps the plants to retain more water and lessens the amount of water that evaporates from the soil
  • improves soil fertility and structure (Soil health is the MOST important part of gardening.)
  • keeps produce (e.g. cucumbers) off damp soil, therefore helping to eliminate diseases
  • helps eliminate weeds from growing in your garden beds (remember those weeds might be telling you something if they do show up)
  • creates pathways in your yard or between your beds allowing you to access the produce more easily

Different Types of Mulch for Your Garden

There are lots of choices for different types of mulch. Some people feel super strongly about wood chips while others use their grass clippings. We started by looking into the least expensive option, and we steered clear of red mulch because it is dyed that way.

Here are organic options for mulch:

  • compost
  • grass clippings (check that it is free of any pesticides, herbicides or other -cides!)
  • chopped or shredded leaves (ideally, leaves that have been aged to become leaf mold)
  • straw (make sure it’s never been treated with anything)
  • wood chips or shavings
  • pine needles
  • cardboard*
  • newspaper*

*It’s best to have something to hold these materials in place, so they don’t blow away when you experience heavy winds.

Personally, I have used compost, cedar wood chips, grass and never before chemically treated straw as mulch. My favorites include compost and never before chemically treated straw for winter – something about it just seems like a big, warm blanket for the garden.

How Should I Apply Mulch to My Garden?

Add mulch directly on top of the soil around your plants, making sure to keep it a few inches away from the base of your plants to avoid fungal issues and rotting.

A few inches of most mulch types work best. The exceptions are grass clippings, which should be applied one inch at a time, and straw, which I have found works best when approximately 3-4 inches are added during the winter months.

When should I apply mulch to my garden?

Mulch can be applied to your garden at any time as long as you allow room for the base of the plants to grow as they mature.

If you are planting from seed, be sure you know where you planted your seeds and do not apply mulch directly on top of that area. If you aren’t sure where you planted your seeds, wait for the seeds to sprout before applying mulch.

Conclusion

The most important part is that you are not leaving your soil bare. Ultimately, the mulch will improve the health of your soil which improves the health of your plants and YOU!

Pumpkin Forming on Stem Surrounded by Mulch

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4 thoughts on “How to use mulch to improve your garden soil health”

  1. Peter McLaughlin

    I love near the coast and use seaweed as a mulch. The worms eat the seaweed from underneath. I have heavy clau soil and the sand that comes with the seaweed helps to lighten the soil.
    I was originally worried about the salt but it is not significant

  2. We make use of the needles from our white pine – known in some areas as pine straw. I think you need to be careful about raw wood since it tends to take nitrogen out of the soil to aid in decomposition. Also, fungus loves decomposing wood.

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