Mulching in the Ecological Garden

By Tom Hughes, Feb 3 2018 09:50PM

What is Mulch?

Mulch is any material or substance that is placed on top of the soil in order to cover it. We prefer natural, renewable, multi-functional mulches, and endeavours to source them as locally as possible. Woodchip and leaf litter are great choices of mulch in most garden settings, but a plastic sheet can be used as a mulch, and so can cardboard, straw, and old carpets!

Renewable, biodegradable mulch materials include

Woodchip - Perfect for weed suppression and supporting woody perennials

Straw - Higher in Nitrogen and a very useful material for soaking up moisture

Grass cuttings - Very N-rich, and can tend to get slimy in large quantities

Food waste - Rich and well-rounded nutritionally but anaesthetic

Manure - Extremely Nitrogen rich

Cardboard - Carbon rich and good for layering and weed suppression

Other materials include:

Plastic sheeting - Effective at weed suppression and reducing evaporation

Rocks, gravel, stone - Natural and aesthetic, but not particularly effective

Carpet - Good heavy material for covering compost piles

What does mulching do?

By covering the soil and reducing its immediate contact with the atmosphere, it becomes more akin to how soils are found in woodland, which is where the majority of our shrubs and trees come from. Woodland soil is buried deep beneath layers of organic matter and is rarely exposed to sun or wind, which are harmful to many soil dwelling lifeforms. Even in open floodplains the soil is mostly covered and protected by vegetation, and when bare soil is exposed, it is rapidly colonised by neighbouring plants, dormant seeds, and those that recently arrived from elsewhere.

The direct and indirect effects of mulching

1) Reduces evaporation from the soil and rhizosphere (root zone); thus it lowers the demand for irrigation by up to 50%.

2) Supports and enhances the soil community for months/years (depending on your choice of material);

i) Creates habitat for soil micro and macrofauna - the vasy majority of which are beneficial to plant growth

ii) Feeds and nourishes life at the base of the food chain

iii) Lowers the demand for fertilisers

iv) Helps control plant pathogens

3) Suppresses the germination and growth of fast-growing annual wild plants (weeds);

i) Reduces the demand for weeding

ii) Reduces competition for space, water, and nutrients

4) Buffers soil temperatures and moisture levels;

i) Reduces abiotic stress for the plants

5) Improves soil structure and texture;

i) increases oxygen levels by creating more pore spaces

ii) aids root expansion and therefore resource capture

6) Looks natural, tidy, and attractive

7) Protects the soil from erosion by wind and rain

As you can see the benefits are diverse and significant. It is clearly one of the most important things that you can do to nourish your garden. We strongly advise filling in any gaps in garden beds with either mulch or plants, that way there will be far less weeding to do in the long run, and much better conditions for wildlife and ecosystem functions such as rainfall interception, nutrient cycling, and soil building.

We can supply extremely cheap and good quality local woodchip mulch so get in touch if you want this excellent all-round health tonic for your garden ecosystem.



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