Many gardeners swear by mulch. But what exactly is mulching and what are the advantages? We show what it’s all about and how to do it properly.
Anyone who deals with sustainable gardening or permaculture will certainly have heard of mulching. Mulching is attractive for all hobby gardeners, as it can reduce maintenance work in the garden and promises a higher yield. Of course, mulching will only improve the garden if done correctly. So that you can successfully mulch in your garden, we have put together everything you need to know about sustainable gardening in this article.
What is mulching?
Table of Contents
Mulching is a well-established practice in the garden. The word “mulch” means something like “rotten, organic material”. A mulch layer is therefore a layer made up of rotten plant residues. How does mulching work? During mulching, material, such as bark mulch or lawn clippings, is spread out on the ground without rotting and left there. So the ground is not bare but is covered by a layer of mulch. This has many advantages for the soil and the plant: Proper mulching helps improve soil fertility and soil structure.
What are the advantages of mulching?
Mulching can have many benefits when done correctly. These can be roughly divided into three areas: protection, nutrient input, and weed suppression.
The mulch layer can be seen as a protective layer as it protects the soil from the elements. The organic material insulates the soil, cooling it in summer and warming it in winter. This can even extend the growing season for crops. In addition, the layer of organic material prevents the evaporation of water from the soil.
In this way, the soil can store water longer and there is less need for water. In addition, a layer of mulch prevents soil erosion because the soil does not lie defenseless, but is instead protected from being washed away during heavy rain, for example. The mulch layer contributes to the nutrient input, as it consists of organic material that slowly rots. Hard-working microorganisms convert the material and make the nutrients it contains available to the plants.
In this way, the mulch layer continuously releases nutrients to the plants over time and there is less need for fertilization. Mulch materials such as bark mulch can also be used against weeds: the mulch suppresses unwanted weeds, as they do not manage to grow through the mulch layer. A final advantage of mulching is that waste materials from the garden such as leaves or lawn clippings can be sensibly recycled by turning them into mulch material.
The advantages of mulching at a glance:
- The insulation layer cools in summer and warms in winter
- Less evaporation = less watering
- Prevents soil erosion
- Valuable nutrients for the plant = higher yields
- Weed suppression
- Garden waste can be sensibly recycled
What are the disadvantages of mulching?
If mulching is not practiced properly, it can have not only advantages but also disadvantages. First of all, choosing the right mulching material is crucial. The ratio of carbon and nitrogen (C / N ratio) plays a decisive role here. Some materials, such as straw, contain a lot of carbon but hardly any nitrogen. As a result, the microorganisms need more nutrients to break down the straw than is ultimately made available to the plants.
The microorganisms even consume additional nutrients that the plant then lacks. This can be recognized by the low growth and the yellow leaves of the plant. It is therefore important that mulch materials with a low nitrogen content are also supplied with fertilizer. For example, horn shavings or a fertilizer with an organic long-term effect that provides nutrients over a long period of time are suitable. In this way, you can ensure that your mulch material does not harm the plant.
Other problems can arise if the mulch material is too moist. This causes increased mold growth and increased snail infestation. Snails and mold simply feel very comfortable in a damp environment. A final disadvantage of mulching: once mulched, the soil under the mulch layer can no longer be tilled. Unless, of course, you remove the mulch.
What to look for when mulching:
- Incorrect mulch can remove nutrients from the plants (C / N ratio)
- Moist mulch encourages mold and snail infestation
- No-tillage under the mulch possible
Which material is suitable for mulching?
Many organic materials can be used for mulching. In general, almost everything can be used that is currently in the garden and of which there is a lot anyway.
An overview of suitable materials for mulching:
- Bark mulch
- Wood chippings
- Lawn clippings
Of course, not all mulch materials are equally suitable for all plants and applications. A detailed overview of mulch materials and a description of what they are suitable for can be found in our special article.
How do you go about mulching?
In fact, you can start mulching at any time in your garden. However, spring is well suited, when you are already starting to work the soil in the garden, or autumn when a lot of organic material accumulates.
Before you can start mulching, you need to make some preparations. Carefully remove all weeds in the area where you plan to mulch. Then the soil is loosened well. Next, fertilizer is worked into the soil. This is necessary so that there is enough nitrogen in the soil and the organic material from the mulch can also be converted really well. For this, we recommend a fertilizer with organic long-term effects, which ensures the nitrogen supply of the soil over a long period of time. It also contains other important nutrients for your plants.
If the soil is well prepared, you can spread the mulch material. How thick you make the mulch layer is up to you. The thicker the layer, the longer it takes for the organic material to rot. In general, layers of mulch between 5 and 15 centimeters in height have proven effective. When spreading the mulch, make sure to leave enough space for the stems and trunks of the plants. If the mulch is too close, mold and rot can occur.
When the effort is done, you can sit back and let nature do its work – there is not much left for you to do. Weeds only occasionally make it through the mulch cover. This can then be plucked out and turned into mulch itself by laying it directly on the mulch layer (only on dry days).
Step-by-step instructions for proper mulching:
- Weed well before mulching
- Loosen the soil
- Work fertilizer with long-term organic effects into the soil
- Spread mulch
- Keep enough distance from plants
- Let nature take its course
- Regularly remove weeds that make it through the mulch layer and leave them on top of the mulch