Mulching plays a vital role in keeping the soil free of pesky weeds and helping conserve valuable water in Southern California’s semi-arid climate and is a vital element of organic gardening principles.
We use a variety of different mulches in the garden. The preferred mulch is tree trimmings that are delivered free from a local tree service. Preferably oak or conifer mulch is asked for since these types of tree mulch don't carry seeds. Another type of mulching we use is spoiled hay or straw, along with grass clippings and living mulches like herbal or wild ground covers such as chamomile, clover, mustard and thymes.
We find that in our dry climate the layer(s) of mulch acts as a cooling and water retaining "blanket" for the soil underneath so that we don't have to water as much and, when we do, it doesn't evaporate. Also the mulch provides food for worms and other insects. And over time the mulch decomposes into a rich, loamy soil and is continually replaced with new layers of mulch. The new soil is then added to our raised beds or pots.
Due to heavy mulching and composting over the years, we are noticeably higher than our next door neighbor. In some parts, at least a foot higher! Oftentimes we are asked, “Your garden must require a lot of work.” On the contrary, with mulching and unique growing methods and principles (link), there’s no weeding or back breaking work involved. It’s easier to go along with the natural course of the garden.
Water area to be mulched. Before you lay down mulch, first cover the ground with sheets of we newspaper or cardboard. This will make it even harder for weeds to grow.
Benefits of Mulch
Mulching can be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your soil and your plants. If you have not considered mulching your garden in the past, you may want to reconsider. Mulches are a labor saving device for the gardener. A layer of mulch will help prevent the germination of many weed seeds, reducing the need for cultivation or the use of herbicides.
Mulches also help moderate the soil temperature and retain moisture during dry weather, reducing the need for watering. Mulches protect the soil from the impact of raindrops that can cause crusting. Crusting can prevent the germination of seedlings. While there are many types of mulch, organic mulches such as wood chips, grass clippings, or other locally available materials help improve the soil by adding organic matter as they decompose. They also may encourage the growth of worms and other beneficial soil organisms that can help improve soil structure and the availability of nutrients for plants.
Mulches also can be used to enhance the look of your garden. Many bark mulches provide uniformly rich brown color that contrasts with the plants. The mulch helps keep plants clean by reducing the splash of soil onto leaves during rainstorms, and helps infiltration of the rainfall into the garden.
The benefits of mulch are:
• Holds moisture in the soil longer.
• Suppresses weeds
• Improves the soil. The mulch breaks down into organic matter over time, which benefits all soil types. Just keep refreshing the mulch layer periodically.
• Looks nice. Mulch as a top dressing is much better than brick, stone, or grating.
For heavy clay soils, they can actually compact the soil, causing roots to grow under the sidewalk rather than in the soil. The most used materials for mulch in this area include wood chips, shredded bark or compost.
Avoid sawdust and pine needles as they take too long to decompose and can actually rob nitrogen from the soil.
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