Mulch is the stuff that covers the unplanted areas of many garden beds. Summer mulching is one of those gardening techniques that seems simple but isn’t really. In fact there are several good reasons to mulch a garden bed, and there are many different mulches from which to choose. In this article we will look into the reasons to mulch in the summer, when to mulch, and how to choose the correct bagged mulch for your garden.
Why Mulch the Summer Garden?
In organic gardening, soil is considered to be most important. To grow robust, healthy plants, the soil itself must be healthy. Soil is the literal foundation of all gardens, and so is treated with care and even reverence by all organic gardeners. We practice no-till technology, we add compost once or twice a year, we leave some, not all, organic matter to decompose naturally, and we mulch. Mulching protects the soil and therefore protects the plants that are depending on that soil to support their very lives.
When to Mulch?
For woody plant beds, mulching earlier rather than later is advised. The reason for early mulching is keep the soil from getting warm enough to germinate weed seeds. And trees and shrubs are happier when their roots are cool. For perennial and annual garden beds, wait until summer (late June in New England) to mulch. Many perennials and most annuals like the soil to warm up a bit. And if you are germinating annual or vegetable seeds, the soil needs to be a certain temperature mulch installation atlanta.
Mulching Do’s and Don’ts
Firstly, choose the appropriate type of mulch for your garden. Use only as much as you need, based on the instructions on the packaging. Secondly, make sure your soil is moist before mulching, and then water it when you are done. Thirdly, make sure to push aside your mulch before you plant so you don’t mix the mulch into the soil. This is particularly important when using wood mulch products like shredded bark and bark chips.
Don’t over mulch and suffocate your plants. No plants like to have mulch piled up around their trunk, crown, or main stems. A common mistake made by homeowners and landscapers alike is to year after year pile fresh mulch on top of old mulch. It may look nice, but you will end up with too much mulch and be hard pressed to find any soil to plant into. The thick layer of mulch will form an impenetrable mat that water won’t be able to penetrate. Then your soil becomes powder dry and resistant to water. Worms and soil organisms die. Now you have ruined your soil!
And although you may see trees and shrubs with mulch piled up around their trunks like a volcano, this practice is out-dated and dangerous to plant health. Over a few years this incorrect mulching will weaken the tree making it more susceptible to insects and disease.
Best Bagged Mulches for your Garden
If you have mixed ornamental beds containing woody plants, perennials and annuals all together, you should mulch with Buckwheat hulls, or Buckwheat Hulls mixed with Cocoa Shells. Cocoa shells smell good at first, like chocolate of course, and are a great use of an industrial by-product, but they break down very quickly becoming slimy and mildewed. Used alone I don’t recommend, but mixed with Buckwheat Hulls Cocoa Shells make a nice mulching material.
If you have garden beds with mostly woody plants-trees and shrubs, maybe pachysandra (which is technically a shrub!), feel free to use wood mulch such as shredded bark. I prefer the Pine shredded bark mulch, to the Hemlock or Cedar because it has the best texture and color. Cedar is too light and fuzzy, and Hemlock is too red, and may be infested with Wooly Adelgid, the insect that has killed most North American Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis). Dyed shredded bark mulch is very popular now, but can look very artificial. True ‘black mulch’ is actually shredded bark mulch that has been composted in such a way to become very dark. Black mulch in bags is usually dyed black and will turn grey in less than a year.
Bark Nuggets can look really nice in a woodland garden, but are a nightmare when it comes to raking excess leaves out of the garden. And, more distastefully, rumor has it that Bark Nuggets are not a by-product of any industry, but are produced by cutting down healthy stands of Bald Cypress. This heinous practice is not sustainable and should not be supported, which is why I have given up using Bark Nuggets.
Mulching, as we have just learned is a very necessary part of organic gardening. But it is often a very visible part of the garden as well so aesthetics is just as important a consideration as functionality. Be as creative with mulch as you are with the garden design and plant selection.