Sunlight, water, and soil is the basic calculation for a healthy garden; however, you can supplement it by additions like fertilizer or mulch.
Mulch can either be organic or inorganic, and is made up of everything from fabrics to plastics to compost and leftovers. Here’s why you should be mulching your garden and which type of mulch is your best choice.
A great way to improve the health of your garden, mulch helps your garden retain moisture, and it suppresses weeds and protects the soil from erosion. But with so many different types of mulch on the market, it can be tough to know which one is right for your garden.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a mulch for your garden:
- The type of plants you are growing. Some plants, such as roses, prefer a specific type of mulch.
- The climate you live in. Some mulches are better suited for certain climates than others.
- Your budget. Mulches can range in price from very affordable to quite expensive.
Types of Mulch
You can separate mulch into two types – organic or inorganic. Organic mulch is made up of things that used to be alive, like pine needles, leaves, or specific types of leftovers. Inorganic mulch are materials that have never been living, so they will not decompose, or if they do, they do so very slowly.
Both of these types of mulch have pros and cons, and you should understand the benefits and detractions of each before spreading it on your lawn.
What is the Best Organic Mulch?
Lawn and garden resources often recommend organic mulch because it puts nutrients back into the soil, it is excellent for root health, soil quality, and long term garden health. Our advice is no different! These properties can be especially beneficial if you’re trying to grow fruits and vegetables in your garden.
You have to replenish organic mulch in your soil often, even monthly, as it breaks down over time more quickly than inorganic mulch. You can count on organic mulch to do double duty as a part-time fertilizer, as this type of mulch slowly adds nutrients and other essentials back into your garden’s soil.
Compost is the perfect mix of leftovers and detritus from your lawn like outdoor clippings, blended together and left to break down in a (semi)sealed container. This mixture keeps your roots insulated as well as fed well.
A beneficial food source to invertebrates, bacteria, and bugs, compost sponsors a flourishing biome that will help create a healthy habitat for beautiful blooms and hearty vegetables and fruit.
Leaves are one of the main ingredients of a good compost mixture, but you can also use leaves as a mulch on their own. Partially decomposed leaves (otherwise known as leaf mold) creates an excellent layer of protection against weeds and pests, and to provide insulation.
Adding leaves to your garden can improve water retention and improve soil structure so that your soil will be more drought-resistant. Using partially decomposed leaves will improve compaction in your soil, but if you don’t have time to wait for a partial decomp, you can use roughly shredded dry leaves and provide additional winter hideouts for pollinators. It won’t help with compaction, but it will be great at preventing weeds.
Two things to watch out for: don’t add leaves infected with leaf spot, anthracnose, or scab, which can infect your lawn, and beware with leaves from black walnut trees, as these contain juglone, harmful for eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes. Mix a layer of leaves to two to three inches below the surface.
Cocoa bean hulls
If you want your soil light, airy, and filled with nutrients, look for cocoa bean hulls to add as mulch to your garden. Cocoa bean hulls are a natural mulch that is made from the shells of cocoa beans. They are a good choice for gardens that are prone to pests, as they help to repel insects. As an added bonus, they are slightly fragrant and all-natural.
Pet owners beware! Cocoa bean hulls contain theobromine, which shouldn’t be placed anywhere a dog might access them as it is toxic to pets. If you can’t fund cocoa bean hulls and want an alternative, try buckwheat or cottonseed hulls. Mix cocoa bean hulls into your soil to a depth of one inch.
What is the Best Inorganic Mulch?
If you want the same benefits of organic mulch but you don’t (or can’t) maintain a consistent schedule to reapplying mulch, a lawn care expert is likely to recommend inorganic mulch like gravel, black plastic, or landscape fabric to create an excellent weed and pest barrier, just what some veggie gardens need.
Stone mulch is a man-made mulch that is made from rocks or pebbles. It is a good choice for gardens that are in dry climates, as it helps to retain moisture. Used mainly in rock or cactus gardens, you should cover areas in which you’re using with black plastic to dispel weeds from growing up between the stones.
Also known as landscape tarp, this man-made layer is an ideal weed deterrent, especially for heat-loving vegetables like peppers and tomatoes. Just be sure to cut holes in the tarp so oxygen can circulate. (Pro tip – if you want plastic tarp for cooler-inclined plants, like broccoli and cauliflower, opt for white or silver plastic instead.
Don’t toss your day-old newspaper, toss it into your garden for an extra layer of protection. Wet the layers of newspaper as you put them down to stick them together, and put organic material on top to tamp it down and give it an added layer of nutrients.
No matter what type of mulch you choose, be sure to apply it correctly. Mulch should be applied in a 2- to 3-inch layer, unless otherwise indicated, and it should be kept away from the stems of plants.
If you want to level up your garden or find lawn care services in your area, contact At Home Pros. We can make your journey from garden idea to fully functioning veggie and fruit trove with consistent and knowledgeable guidance.