Thursday, 29 January 2015

Mulching & chip barking the garden beds

Mulching is used to improve the soil around plants and reduces the amount of time spent on watering and weeding. Mulches help soil retain moisture in summer, prevent weeds from growing and protect the roots of plants in winter.
4 reasons to mulch your garden:
  • Mulch stops the top of the soil drying out and keeps the soil moist. This can reduce the need to water your garden by about 60 per cent.
  • Mulching also prevents weeds and weed seed germination. If you allow weeds to grow they compete with plants for moisture and nutrients.
  • Mulching also keeps the soil temperature constant, as the ground stays warmer in winter and is cooler in the hot summer sun.
  • Using an organic mulch means you add extra organic matter to the soil, as the mulch will break down into soil over time. This improves soil structure and drainage, and encourages earthworm and soil microbial activity. This is particularly beneficial in the vegie patch.
Mulches can be applied to bare soil or to cover the surface of compost in containers. We use biodegradable organic bark based mulches as they take longer to break down. Layers will need replacing when the material has fully rotted down.
This means we only need to reapply the mulch to our garden beds every 6 months in late spring and autumn. Avoid applying mulches in winter and early spring as the soil is too cold and in summer when it will be dry. I often put a layer of wet newspaper down before I mulch to help with weed control.

We go to our local community yard waste collection site to buy chipped tree debris. Bark mulches come in a range of sizes. The larger the grain, the longer it takes to breakdown into soil and allow rainfall to penetrate the soil where it's needed. For coarse mulches a layer of between 4 and 6 centimetres is ideal.
Wood chips aren't a great idea for vegetable and annual flower beds, since you'll be digging these beds every year and the chips will get in the way. We use straw or leaf litter for the vegie patch. To help growth remember to pull mulch away from perennials and bulbs for faster growth in spring.

Rather than using lawn clippings, pruned leaves and leaf litter as mulch, it's far better to put it in the compost and let it break down naturally. Large trees and specimen shrubs are best mulched to the radius of the canopy.
Tips for looking after a mulched garden:
  • As low-nitrogen organic mulches such as wood chips and sawdust decay, nitrogen is temporarily depleted from the soil. Spread fertilisers over mulches in late winter and they will be washed down to plant roots by rain. However, make sure that dogs or children can’t eat the fertilisers. We use powdered fertilisers or lightly dig in manures.
  • After mulching you will need to apply extra water to reach the roots of the plants beneath.
  • Too much mulch can produce a hard layer, which is difficult for water to penetrate. Avoid this by only replacing mulch when it has completely rotted away. We often use the garden fork to light turn the mulch every few months, but be careful not to damage plant roots.
  • Wet mulch piled against the stems of flowers and vegetables can cause them to rot, so keep it about 3cm away from plant stems.
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