Mulch helps control wild grasses by preventing their seeds from germinating and also smothering small weeds in the area we class as garden territory.
A good thick layer of mulch will help to hold soil moisture readily available to plants by preventing moisture evaporating from the surface of the soil.
Some of the heavier mulches will prevent the soil from eroding or crusting over by maintaining a covering for the soil surface so that the heavy rain will dribble through the mulch rather than splashing directly on the soils surface and causing a rapid run off.
Soft mulches which eventually compost down will help reduce freezing damage to the plants root system during the winter months by acting as an insulator from the cold. When used around the base of perennial plants, mulch can help to reduce some frost damage.
Using certain types of mulch will improve the appearance of the garden around the home by keeping out weeds and improve the appearance of the bare soil surface.
Mulch can help keep fruit, such as strawberries, cucumbers, dwarf growing tomatoes, bush fruit etc, up off the ground which will ensure cleaner fruit and less decay. Often tomatos will develop fungus on them due to water splashing up the mud containing fungus spores.
MULCHING THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
Mulching should start in mid to late spring. Do not apply early in the spring or if the season is late, wait until the soil has warmed up.
Placing mulch around the plants too early will keep the soil colder longer and slow down the plant's growth.
Place the mulch 7cm deep over the ground around the young plants.
New vegetable seedlings which are grown from seed and transplanted into the garden bed should be mulched sparingly with a ground covering of 3cm deep and gradually increase the depth of the mulch to 7cm as the plants grow taller.
With low growing plants such as lettuce and radishes, the mulch should only be applied on either side of the row to a depth of about 4cm.
Ground hugging plants such as cucumbers and melons, mulch the entire area in which the foliage will grow.
Mulching these areas will assist in keeping the vegetables clean and will help reduce fruit loss from rot diseases which can develop when the vegetables lie along the ground.
The vegetable garden can be mulched, after the crop has finished, into the ground. I find it easier to use a mulch which decomposes rapidly and will not need to be removed from the soil preceding cultivation.
PLEASE NOTE If the mulch or spent crop contains fungus, remove the whole lot and do not dig it in.
GENERAL LANDSCAPE SITES
Mulching landscape sites, garden shrub areas and flower beds etc is conducted in much the same way as the vegetable gardens. This also can be applied at a depth of approximately 7cm under and around the plants.
I suggest for permanent landscape plantings, use mulches which do not decay or use a mulch that decomposes very slowly over a period of years.
These mulches can be little more expensive but they do not need to be replaced each year and will provide a very completed appearance to the area.
Examples of long lasting mulches are pebbles, gravel, bark chips, red gum chips, shredded bark etc.
Weed mat is another material that can be used. This is laid on the ground first and then covered with the stones or bark to hold it in place. This is like a fine sieve which will allow water penetration.
Grass clippings can be used, but they must be spread out thinly until they dry out. Only apply the grass clippings sparingly across the ground to a depth of 2cm and do not place any closer than 4cm away from the plants stems or foliage that is resting on the ground.
Grass clippings placed more than a depth of 6cm will decay at a great rate and will generate an immense amount of heat and can cook the plants root system.
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