Mulch is general term used for any material that allows air and water access to the soil while attractively covering the soil surface for a long time. Mulching garden beds is entirely worth the time and effort upfront because the benefits are more than just its attractive appearance. Mulching a garden pays off throughout the season and even in future years.
- Water Less Often - Mulch retains moisture in the soil; consequently the plant will require less frequent watering. Adding a top layer of mulch slows the evaporation of water from the soil, keeping moisture available for plants over a longer time period.
- Spend Less Time Weeding - Another time-saving benefit of mulch is its ability to slow weeds growth, so less time is spent weeding when a garden is mulched. The weed seeds below the mulch are inhibited by the lack of sunlight. Any weeds that do grow are more easily pulled from damp mulch than soil. Expert Tip: Space plants slightly closer together than recommended to reduce time spent weeding.
- Improves Soil Quality – Mulches of leaves, bark, grass, wood, and other plant-based materials have the added benefit of improving the soil fertility over time. The decomposing mulch turns into nutrient rich, loose soil with improved water holding and air flow. Improving water holding and air flow are key components to combat dense, compacted soil and grow healthy plants.
- Minimizes Soil Temperature Fluctuation – Plants are affected by extreme temperatures of hot and cold. Providing a mulch layer insulates delicate surface roots from the harsh midday sun and damage from frost. Moderating soil temperature with mulch reduces damage to plant roots, which results in them being healthier and stronger.
When is the best time to mulch? Mulch Early! – Spreading a layer of mulch is easier and takes less time if applied before the growth on perennials is in full swing and before annuals are planted. Aim to spread mulch as soon as the soil begins to warm in spring. For annuals, you can plant through the layer of mulch, rather than painstakingly spreading around each plant afterward. Add a 3" layer of mulch around your plants.
Expert Tip: Leave a few inches of space around trunks and plants with woody stems. Mulch against the stem creates too wet of conditions and it may rot.