One of the questions I get asked the most when teaching a “Greener Garden” class is, “Do we really need to use mulch”. That’s a complicated question that has many subtle levels but I can sum it all up by saying….YES! From my perspective as a Conservationist and an Organic Gardener I can tell you, I wouldn’t be as successful at either if I didn’t use some form of mulch. If you don’t mulch, let me bring you over to my way of thinking.
Nature Might Know A Thing Or Two About Gardening
I’ve never understood why humans think we can improve on nature. Why mess with a system of perfection that has worked for millions of years without our input? To put it simply, nature is the best gardener ever. Actually since it writes the rules concerning gardening it kinda makes it the world’s leading authority on the subject. So if for millions of years the world’s forests and plains successfully used a method of mulching with fallen leaves and dormant grass, why not emulate the process in your home garden? If it works in places that we’ve banned ourselves from improving, don’t you think it will work for your own small Eden?
Eenie Meenie Minnie Moe
Pick a mulch by the foe. What are you fighting in your garden? Weeds….mulch can help, drought…yep that too! Are you fighting erosion, or too cool or too hot soil, maybe you just want a neater more attractive bed…..yes, yes and YES! Mulch can help! Mulch blocks weeds, regulates soil temps, helps to retain moisture and fights erosion….seriously it just needs a mask and cape, mulch is a gardener’s super hero.
But which mulch is right for you? Well…..I guess it depends. I prefer cocoa hulls and shredded bark, but, let me take a minute to tell you why I won’t use Cypress mulch. Cypress Mulch comes with a high environmental cost. Companies grind 129,000 tons of Florida’s cypress trees into mulch each year. These trees thrive only in freshwater wetlands, and removing them throws off the balance of this delicate ecosystem. And did you know that wetlands are the coffee filters for our fresh water? Yeah, they are important. This graceful tree grows slowly and once cut it is hard to replace sustainably. So, I won’t use cypress mulch.
I also won’t use straw for two reasons and one is quite girly for a seasoned gardener. Straw attracts mice! Lots of mice, and I’m sorry, but….EWWW! Messing around with my plants only to have 20 mice scatter is NOT what I consider to be fun. Also, most straw contains weed seeds that will easily take root, I want to prevent weeds not set up an orphanage! In my veggie garden I use shredded bark.
I prefer to use Cocoa or Pecan Hulls because it provides around 3% nitrogen to the soil and their low acidity levels are perfect for my roses, plus it smells divine. BUT if you have dogs, cocoa hulls are not for you! These hulls contain theobromine which is toxic for dogs, so consider pecan hulls which are easier to find in Oklahoma, LOL!
Pine bark and pine needles are perfect if you have acidic loving plants, but pine bark will float away if you tend to flood. Where I live you can pick up free mulch from the City through their garden waste pickup program and I have often used this mulch on my garden paths. Mulch choices are abundant, can also use shredded newspaper, gravel, leaves or untreated green grass clippings as well. But one of my favorite mulches isn’t considered a mulch at all…. live plants. When your bed is filled with a low growing ground cover you have a natural mulch system at play, farmer’s call this a cover crop, I call it copying Mother Nature. I like to use creeping thyme because it’s beautiful and when stepped on or brushed it smells luscious!
Different mulches have different mulch depth needs, but on average use 3″. But remember to keep the mulch away from each plant itself. For wood base plants such as trees and some shrubs that distance should be around 3-4″. Mulch is meant to sit on top of the soil and placing it too close to your plants can cause all sorts of problems; mold, mildew, rot and other nasties. Do you feel ready to go spread some mulching love around your garden? What’s your mulch of choice?