Mulch is a must!

Photo: istockphoto.com/Clayton Hansen
With the hot dry weather of August and water shortages everywhere, mulching is a must. Mulching is simply the spreading of a protective covering around plants and on top of the soil and is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Two types There are two broad types of mulch: inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulches are generally stone of some variety and have a limited practical use. While they do reduce weeds, they do nothing to improve the soil. The main appeal of stone mulch is aesthetic, creating a formal, handsome look. Organic mulches are usually the ones gardeners are talking about since these are the ones that are extremely beneficial to your garden. Organic mulches can include everything from cocoa hulls and shredded bark to wood chips and even garden clippings. Improve your soil Organic mulch covers all the bases. It helps conserve moisture and stops weeds. It's a great moderator of temperatures as well, keeping soil cool in the summer and warm in the winter while reducing the changes between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Best of all, as organic mulches break down they add nutrients to the soil, improving microbial activity and encouraging earthworm production. How to apply Applying mulch is easy: simply spread a thin layer on the soil's surface. As a rule of thumb, the finer the mulch, the thinner you should spread it. Cocoa beans, for example, should be layered one inch thick, while you might need two or three inches for bark chips. Be sure to keep mulch away from tree trunks, shrub stems and the crowns of annuals and perennials. Otherwise, you run the risk of your plants rotting, and perhaps even dying. Types of organic mulches
  • Cocoa Bean Hulls (Cocoa Mulch): A by-product of the chocolate industry cocoa hulls are useful for suppressing weeds and have a unique and distinctive look. They don't have as much nutritional benefits as wood-based mulches and are toxic to dogs. Cocoa mulch works for both formal and informal gardens.
  • Forest Mulch: This mulch is simply shredded bark. It breaks down faster than wood chips or pine bark, but is great for landscaping because it's easy to apply and maintain (the fibrous texture helps it to stay in place).
  • Wood Chips: Many types and varieties are available. Often times, wood chips can be acquired for free from your local municipality or utility company, but these tend to be course and crudely chipped, with twigs often mixed in. Finer wood chips, those purchased from garden centers, are far more attractive. Wood chips are the longest lasting of the common organic mulches.
  • Pine Bark: Perhaps the most attractive of the organic mulches, pine bark is prized for its distinctive reddish-coloration which tends to contrast well with green foliage. It can be pricey, and since you'll need a three-inch layer to keep weeds down, covering a large garden with pine bark can be expensive.
Anytime is mulch time It's never too late to mulch and it's actually advised to wait until late-May or June before applying mulch to annuals and vegetables since mulch cools the soil and may slow new growth. Otherwise, it can be applied at any time of year. Give your plants a good watering and then apply the mulch to help them through the dry, hot days of August. Finally, remember that organic mulches need to be replenished every few years to maintain the recommended depth and a fresh appearance. Andrew Hind is a freelance writer specializing in eco-friendly gardening.