With our warming summers there are many reasons to mulch your home gardens. This has been an exceptional summer in the Fraser Valley with heat waves and record-breaking temperatures, extreme fire warnings and over 1,000 provincial fires with resulting air quality alerts. Drought ratings and sprinkling restrictions remind me that mulching gardens in hot, dry weather is just something you do to conserve water, reduce evaporation and keep moisture in the soil. A lesson I learned in Australia where I grew up. As our summers are forecast to stay drier and hotter here in the Pacific Northwest soon, mulching is becoming more of a necessity in conserving water and protecting our home vegetation from damage.
Image Gallery of Different Ways to Mulch
Here are some examples of mulch I have used in my garden. I am a huge believer in the power of mulch and don’t like to leave the earth naked, for example here are ideas of mulches: compost, sawdust, grass clippings, hay, hedge clippings, bark mulch, rock & lava rock.
Top Reasons to Mulch
- Retain moisture in the soil and at the same time protect roots from the hot summer sun.
- Moderate the soil temperature allowing a more natural even growth for plants, without stress.
- Less watering of the garden is required therefore saving water, time and energy.
- Weed control becomes easier and saves back-breaking bending and digging in the garden.
- Vegetables, fruit and other plants are of a highly quality and often quantity.
- Finally, in winter mulches protect plants from harsh winter’s often sub-zero temperatures and snow which can cause permanent plant damage.
Why Mulch is Good for Wildlife
A healthy mulched garden with a water source for instance a simple bird bath encourages wildlife :
- Bees, including pollen laden bumble bees and other beneficial insects abound in a thriving fertile garden environment.
- Sparrows, chickadees, finches and other birds visit the yard daily to sing their songs and consume their share of insects.
- Amazing dragonflies patrol the garden all summer. They can eat their body weight in mosquitoes in half an hour – nature’s non toxic bug killer.
- Hummingbirds visit the garden every day checking out the new perennial wildflower blooms and scarlet runner bean blossoms.
- A family of robins nest near the garden each year.
- The veggie garden has been visited by garter snakes and frogs.
Pests and diseases seem less frequent when mulching, and the fresh sawdust path appears to deter both slugs and wood bugs while reflecting sunlight in our partly shaded garden. The reduction in slugs and snails may also be attributed to our warmer summer weather. The main concern for our garden is a pesky family of moles have taken up residence and seem to have a maze of tunnels under the garden as they enjoy the earthworms. I have not noticed any damage to the vegetables as yet. Some of B.C.’s moles are at risk.
Essential Mulching Tips
- After transplants are replanted and acclimatized to their permanent home in the garden it is a good idea to add mulch to protect them to reduce transplant shock.
- Move (or add more) mulch closer to the stalk or trunk of plants when they are settled and begin to grow.
- By the end of the growing season, the spring hay mulch, depending on its initial thickness is non-existent due to decomposition.
- If you are not mulching yet keep a watch in the fall in your area to collect no charge chemical free tree leaves, grass clippings, etc being careful as chemicals are often used in residential and public gardens.
- The earthworms appreciate a mulch to keep soil moist. The compost bins are teaming with hundreds of worms which, as time goes by, are moving throughout the garden.
- For general plant safety when transplanting watch the weather forecasts and plant outside when a day or two of cloud cover or rain are forecast so plants do not go into shock from direct hot sun.
- Mulches to consider include: compost, grass and hedge clippings, seaweed, plants (green cover), sawdust, hay, rocks, volcanic rock, shredded bark, aged manure, shredded leaves, etc.
- Most mulches add appeal to the garden as they give soil a neat finish.
- Removing seaweed from the foreshore in large quantities can unbalance local ecosystems and some countries have initiated rules to prevent this to protect sensitive beach areas. Seaweed hosts an “unseen microworld” (John Spicer).
- Plastic mulches are used extensively especially for commercial crops but is not (yet) biodegradable, does not enrich soil or allow rain water to soak through. Research indicates coloured plastic mulches can increase yields of certain crops.
The Benefits of Mulching
To summarize, the benefits of mulching are overwhelmingly positive and mulching is essential for a healthy productive garden using less energy. An un-mulched garden somehow appears vulnerable being subjected to all the fluctuations of our changing climate. Our vegetable garden grows a variety of healthy nutritious vegetables thanks to magic compost and mulching. Keeping plants healthy with constant moisture, even temperatures and slow release of compost rich nutrients all add to a thriving, chemical free home garden.
Finally, as well as personal satisfaction, you and your family will appreciate chemical free fruit, vegetables and preserves from your garden superior to any store-bought product. There are many other benefits of mulching, much more than mentioned here, as you will no doubt find out as you begin to mulch. Fall is a great time to start mulching your garden. Be creative in your choice of mulch and have fun
Links & References:
- Gardening and mulching in Australia’s hot weather (2013)
- Ideas on how to make your own compost to mulch & enrich garden soil (2013)
- Proper Mulching Techniques for trees – International Society of Arboriculture
- Organic Mulching – University of Illinois
- Mulching the Australian way
- Royal Horticultural Society, UK advice on mulching
- Climate change and the home vegetable garden, Cornell University
- Life Without Insects? The Manduca Project, University of Arizona
- “Biodiversity” by John Spicer, Oneworld, 2006
- The Self Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour, Dorling Kindersley, 1978
- Ruth Stout wrote the manual on “The No-Work Garden book” in 1971
Clouds of insects danced and buzzed in the golden autumn light,
and the air was full of the piping of the song-birds.
Long glinting dragon-flies shot across the path,
or hung tremulous with gauzy wings and gleaming bodies.
~Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company