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Why use mulch? Everything you need to know about mulch

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Why use mulch?

Once you've weeded your flower beds you may consider mulching them -


First of all what is mulch?

Mulch is something (Organic or inorganic) which is spread on the soil surface


What does mulch do?

Mulch stops the soil drying out
moderates soil temperatures,
Stops torrential rain from the erosive forces of raindrops
discourages weeds
Looks nice.


What can be used as a mulch?

Lots of stuff - you can use organic or inorganic material.

Some people use wood chips, pine needles, hardwood and softwood bark, cocoa shells, leaves, compost mixes, and a variety of other products usually derived from plants , grass, straw, gravel, plastic, stone, lava rock, rubber Chippings.

Sometimes the plants in the border or bed dictate the type of mulch.


Descriptions and uses of types of mulch



Bark Mulch: Available commercial in large quantities. Fairly low cost. Available in the following forms -shredded, chipped, or chunked and in different grades - coarse, medium and large

Benefits of bark :
Bark contains substances which prevent it from decaying (waxes, oils and lignin) - which means as a mulch it will last longer than mulches which don't contain this sort of substance.

suitable to use around trees, shrubs, roses, and in perennial beds

Problems with bark as a mulch -

You might get splinters from it (Wear gloves when handling and weeding near it)

Possible horsetail spore contamination

potential for soil nitrogen deficiencies

use of bark mulch on tomatoes can be harmful as this material will sometimes release toxic volatiles.


Straw Mulch - straw from materials such as wheat, oat, alfalfa, and soybeans.

Use straw mulches on root crops, strawberries, tomatoes, basil, and blackberries.
Straw mulches are particularly beneficial to tomato plants, preventing diseases such as anthracnose, leaf spot, blossom end rot, and early blight by providing a physical barrier between fruit and soils.

Straw can have a high C:N ratio
winter habitat for mice
may contain contain unwanted crop and weed-seed



Fresh Grass clippings - yes the humble lawn cuttings

source of readily available nitrogen

use on warm soil loving crops such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant


Avoid lawn cuttings with seeds, weeds, no herbicide,
May need frequent application


Cocoa shells - made from cocoa shells - shells bind together to make a loosely knitted, porous mat over the soil surface
ideal for flowerbed
pleasant to handle
strong smell of chocolate
5cm (2in) mulch layer needed


Manure - well-rotted manure can be bought from garden centre or from farms direct...


Use fruit or vegetable garden
Puts nutrients into soil as it decomposes

Unrotted manure should only be applied in autumn - well-rotted manure in spring.
Always wear gloves when handling manure.
Can contain weed seeds!
might smell a bit.

Gravel & Pebbles -
Use for alpine plants - small and slow-growing -
Prevents rotting as does not contain moisture next to plants
Can be used for paving with membrane
Heavy to get in situ



Newspaper and cardboard -
cardboard is best used in flattened layers
Cheap -
exceptional weed suppressors
Not very attractive
May blow away
Needs fixing down



Pine needles
light and airy
Decompose slowly
Good for acid soil plants
Hard to get hold of
Not good for plants which don't like acid soil


Woodchips (including saedust)
Can be free if you are lucky
Stay in place if heavy pieces
Avoid chemically or pressure treated woodchips -
Don't mix into soil


excellent and free mulch
Contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during a season.
shred leaves or compost them slightly prior to use as a mulch
May encourage slugs
Don't use on strawberry plants or herbaceous perennial


Cover crops - quick growing plants as a soil mulch - crop is planted, allowed to grow, and approximately two weeks prior to planting the real crop the "green manure" is turned under.

reduce erosion
enrich the soil, and beautify the vegetable garden or landscape

Buckwheat grows quickly, smothers weeds, attracts beneficial insects, and breaks down quickly when turned under -
Don't allow to go to seed
Needs turning in

Problems which may occur with mulching -

Too much mulch - can keep excessive moisture in the soil which will rot roots...
Too much mulch agains the stems and trunks of plants can cause damage
Mulch may affect pH of soil
Long term use of one mulch type may result in toxicities or deficiencies of nutrients.
May create habitat for rodents
Too much mulch may prevent water penetration if it becomes very matted or is very thick
Some mulches may cause odours when they "sour" which may be bad for plants
Follow the instructions on purchased mulches for best results -
Mulch wide not deep -
Consider where you are mulching - does it need to keep the plants dryer, wetter, more acid? Match the mulch to avoid problems
For well-drained sites, apply a 2- to 4-inch layer. If there are drainage problems, a thinner layer should be used





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