Thursday, June 24, 2010

In Praise of Mulch

One of my favorite gardening strategies is using mulch. It serves so many good purposes, both short- and long-term:

1. Mulch keeps the ground moist, so that less evaporation takes place and less watering is needed.

2. Mulch breaks down, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil, as well as attracting earthworms -- though on occasion it can attract less desirable organisms, too, like slugs, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. (One other potential disadvantage is that some mulches -- think wood shavings, peat moss, and pine needles - can add too much acidity to the soil, though that problem is usually easily rectified by applying lime, which is pretty cheap.)

3. A mulched garden looks beautiful.

4. And the obvious one, the main reason people use mulch, is that it keeps the weeds down, big time. The few that pop up through the mulch are generally much easier to pull, too, because the ground stays soft and moist under the mulch.

5. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention another nice feature: mulch keeps drooping tomatoes, sprawling squashes and cucumbers, and other vegetables out of the dirt, where they are more apt to rot, and prevents rain from splashing dirt all over the leafy vegetables like lettuce and chard and spinach. Although it is wise to wash vegetables before using them, they come out of the garden looking cleaner to begin with when mulch is used.

I live in town, and it is sometimes hard to find enough mulch to cover my garden, but the neighbors and I pile up our raked leaves in the fall, and we use it in the spring to mulch between rows of vegetables, and several people bring their lawn clippings over. There's a park nearby that doesn't treat the grass with chemicals, and sometimes we go down there and rake up after mowing.

I used to live nearer the coast, where we could go down to the beach and rake up seaweed for mulch. Old hay can sometimes be bought pretty cheap, and the bales break apart into neat little squares with which you can make tidy pathways that look lovely. I try not to spend too much money on the garden, and to "make do," but there are always products that can be bought from farm and garden stores if one wants to go the more expensive, high-maintenance route.

About the Author
Virginia Hughes is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.

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