Mulch can offer some real benefits to any garden – in considering how much mulch do I need there are a number of factors to take into consideration. We will take a look at the benefits of mulching and follow that up with guidance on which mulches are best for your situation, how best to mulch, and finally how much mulch you will need.
Benefits of Mulch in your Garden.
Mulch will make your garden look groomed, and uniform – it is a great way to make a garden look cared for and tied together with little effort.
A layer of mulch will prevent evaporation from the surface of the soil, improve water retention and benefit your plants.
As it prevents light from hitting the soil a deep enough layer of mulch will act as a weed suppressant
Many mulches are made from biodegradable material, which will then rot down and feed the soil with nutrients over a period of time.
Truly! Some mulches – cedar, pinewood chips, cypress – are known to act as repellents for ticks and other insects.
Prevents Soil Erosion
If your garden is in an exposed or windy location then the application of mulch will ensure soil erosion caused by wind damage is kept to a minimum.
Clearing around the base of plants, and mulching nearby for low maintenance, means you don’t have to mow or use the weed eater so close, protecting the base of your plant.
With weeds suppressed and water retained you spend much less time maintaining your garden, giving you more time to enjoy it.
So, having convinced you of the fabulous benefits of mulching you need to think about what type of mulch you need. Mulch is available in two main categories – organic and inorganic.
Organic mulch is mulch derived from any material that once had the life. Using an organic mulch is cheaper, especially if you make your own, but also allows for the breakdown of the mulch over time, nourishing the ground underneath.
Wood Chips and Shredded bark can be purchased in bags from your garden center. If you need a larger quantity and are looking to save money and have it delivered, then your local tree-care company or utility company will be an excellent source of wood-chip mulch which they produce as a by-product of their main activity. Community waste collection companies often have chipped mulch available, and often free of charge!
You can mulch your own. If you have trees in your garden and sweep the leaves in the winter, you can run them through your mower and collect the shredded leaves – instant mulch.
You can use your collected grass clippings as mulch on your beds, take care not to apply this too thickly as it will back down and get waterlogged leaving you with a slimy mess, little and often is the best way to apply grass cuttings directly to your beds. Grass cuttings are Nitrogen rich and are particularly beneficial for vegetable gardens.
Home produced compost is the best and healthiest of additives for your garden, spread it onto the top of your bed and let mother nature drag it down. This works particularly well if topped off with a layer of leaf mulch.
Straw or seed free hay are very good – make sure it’s weed-free hay though or you will be adding to your problems rather than solving them! Once again draw back from stems of plants, as you will suffer slug or rodent damage.
Inorganic mulch would be using black plastic or geotextile as a covering, or maybe a stone-based mulch such as stone. A plastic covering offers benefits by way of warming the soil, this is a brilliant mulch to use in a vegetable patch for the areas that are not under cultivation.
As the black plastic creates a soil temperature around 3 degrees above that of the surrounding temperatures fruit trees are perfectly protected by planting through plastic – the water retention supports the growth, and the warmth gives the fruit tree a longer growing season.
Stone gives a fairly permanent effect but is very hard to remove, so make sure that you are happy with the look before applying.
Geotextiles are porous, so don’t leave you with the same problems as plastic, but they do biodegrade, so will need additional protection. They also aren’t that attractive, so they make a great base layer for a different mulch topping – meaning that you can put a thinner layer of mulch on the top. You may find if you want to remove it that root growth has occurred into the fabric itself, making it difficult to remove and causing plant damage.
How do I mulch my garden?
- Before mulching, you must clear the soil so that it is weed free. Adding a layer of mulch to weeds that are already established will not be successful as they will be vigorous enough to grow through.
- Make sure that you have enough material on hand to lay a really generous layer of mulch over all of the ground or bed that you intend to cover. Skimping on the covering will not give any of the benefits, and, once again, those weeds will just keep coming. In sunny spots you are going to be looking to put a good 4 – 6 inches of mulch onto the bed, slightly less where it’s shady, around 3 – 4 inches.
- If you have a particularly troublesome area then for added protection against weeds coming through a hefty layer of newspaper around your plants and then mulch on top will give you a covering that nothing will be coming through.
- Make sure that if you have bulbs set, or planting that is not obvious, that you leave space for them to come through – either pull back the mulch slightly in that area or lay a thinner layer to allow them to come through.
- Pull any mulch back from woody stemmed plants or trees. Mulch retains moisture which benefits plants through the warm or sunny season but will rot stems or trunks, pull it back so that it doesn’t pile up around the stem of your shrubs or bushes.
- If you are applying plastic mulching then spread it across the ground and weight down the edges, burying them into the adjacent soil works really well – but think about watering first.
- You will need to punch any plants through holes in the plastic or make holes to allow it to go around any plants already in place. Although with a plastic mulch evaporation is minimized as an impervious covering rain cannot get through. A drip system works perfectly in this situation and the hoses can be hidden underneath the plastic before it is applied.
- If you are planting shrubs then plastic is a poor choice – it encourages surface root growth and compromises plant stability.
How much mulch do you need?
How’s your maths? All mulches will be worked out by area of application, so the first calculation is to work out the area that you are going to cover.
For squares and rectangles, you multiply width by length. Of course, gardens are rarely created in squares or rectangles.
Triangles – measure the sides that join at a right angle, then measure half the length of one sideband multiply the length of the other.
Circles – radius (half of the diameter) times itself, times 3.14.
If you have irregular shapes you can measure the outside by rope, and then use the rope to make a square or rectangle for easier calculations.
Once you have the area you can order the plastic or fabric easily. If you are going to mulch with organic material or stone then you need to work out your depth of cover by the area and then you will know how much to order.
When considering how much mulch do I need? The quickest answer is more than you think! Always ensure that you have sufficient to give good coverage to an adequate depth, if the depth is insufficient it will not serve the correct purposes. Areas will need topping up as you go along, and too much is better than too little.