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Mulching - A Quick Guide

You may have heard gardeners talk about mulching, or perhaps seen mention of it in garden magazines, or on websites. But what does it mean, and when and how should you do it? This quick guide will help you become an expert and confident mulcher.

What is mulching?

Mulching is, at its most straightforward, adding a layer of material to the surface of the soil. You can mulch with organic matter, such as bark chips, or with non-organic materials such as gravel, slate chips or ornamental glass chips.

Why mulch?

Mulching serves a variety of purposes. In summer, mulching helps to suppress weed growth and retain moisture, which of course makes it perfect for the gardener who is short of time! A mulch of bark chippings, available from garden centres or compost suppliers, applied when the ground is wet, will keep the ground moist, and help your plants to grow without competition from weeds. In winter, a mulch of compost, whether home-made or bought from compost suppliers, will protect the roots and base of any slightly tender plants from frost. An organic mulch, such as bark chippings, will also rot into the ground, and so act as a soil improver, as it adds organic matter to the soil. Again, perfect for the lazy gardener: three jobs in one!

Mulching also has some side benefits. Use of certain mulches may deter pests: many gardeners swear by gravel around the base of hosta plants, as an effective way of keeping off slugs and snails against . Gravel is also used around alpines, to improve the drainage.

Mulching can also keep your edible plants and fruit off the ground. A mulch of straw or bark chippings around strawberry plants will keep your fruit in good condition. And pumpkins like to be kept dry into autumn by a mulch under the ripening fruit.

And finally, many people mulch purely for decorative effect, especially in pots. A mulch of coloured glass pebbles around a standard shrub, for instance, not only keeps in moisture, but also adds colour when the plant is not flowering, or for those like bay, without showy flowers.

What material?

As you’ll have gathered from the previous section, the ideal mulch depends on what you want to achieve. Bark chippings are a very good all-round organic mulch, and seem to be effective in both suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. Home-made compost, or a bought compost such as mushroom compost, or mushroom and manure compost is very good for winter mulching, as it keeps plants warm. Grass clippings make an effective mulch for bamboos, encouraging growth.

And for a decorative mulch, well, really, the choice is yours!