I’ve noticed when discussing garden plans with clients that there’s a lot of confusion about mulch – what is it, do you need it and how much do you need? It’s not that hard really, and it makes sense when you consider what mulch is for and what it does.
Mulch is simply a layer of something laid on top of the soil after planting, and the amount you need depends on what it’s intended to do. Home-made compost, chipped bark and beach pebbles can all be used to mulch. In fact, you can even use cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper if you’re stuck – but maybe not in the most ornamental parts of the garden!
Mulch is usually applied after planting, but it can be applied at any time as long as the soil is moist, and will need topping up every few years, depending on what kind you choose. A good thick layer of mulch helps to retain moisture in the soil, particularly important in newly planted areas where the plants need to settle in and get their roots established, which won’t happen if they can’t get enough water. With our increasingly unpredictable climate, preserving water in the soil makes sense, and since a newly planted border needs plenty of it, a good mulch will reduce the amount of work.
The other thing it helps reduce is weeds – but for this to work, you’ll need a good 7 to 10 centimetres’ depth, which is way more than most people lay down. You need to make sure that perennial weeds – things that re-grow every year like dandelions, dock and bindweed – are eradicated first, or they’ll just grow happily through the mulch. When you’ve given these repeat offenders the heave-ho, a good layer of mulch makes it much harder for annual weed seeds to germinate – these are the opportunists that blow in - on the wind and can produce several generations in one season, leaving your newly planted border covered in weeds.
If you’re okay with that – and after all, what is a weed but a plant in the wrong place? – you can leave well alone, but if you want to give your carefully chosen plants the best start in life without any competition, then mulch you must!
Anne Byrne Garden Design provides easy to follow Garden Plans that you can implement right away or in stages. Anne’s design flair and passion for plants brings a touch of magic to gardens of all sizes.
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