The effect of growing plants in garden mulch is usually immediate. Vegetables and leafy crops grow better, enter the fruiting stage earlier and have larger leaf volumes. To assess the effect of mulch on plant growth and development, simply leave some of the crops “as is” and experiment with some of the mulch.
Then in one season, you will be able to see in practice what the seedbed mulch layer does. But which mulch to choose for the seedbed?
A DIFFERENT TASK: A METHOD
Should I garden mulch bare soil in seedbeds or not? This question is losing its relevance for an increasing number of gardeners. After all, there is simply no other way to maintain plants so easily and to protect and improve the quality of the soil. Mulching is one of the four cornerstones of organic farming, alongside green manure, composting, and bed building.
But the use of garden mulch as a basic soil conservation tool is also increasingly used in conventional farming techniques. After all, the drying of the soil, its depletion, leaching, weathering, and more frequent watering with regular loosening – is not a pleasant option.
Mulching reduces the need for weeding by a factor of 5, watering needs by at least a factor of 3, and loosening seedbeds by none at all. And this is the most important argument for reducing the labor intensity of garden work, for the skeptics.
Mulching is an imitation of nature. In nature, you never see soil “bare”. Every garden garden mulch mimics the natural defenses of leaf fall and plant pruning.
Mulch, the primary source of organic and mineral building blocks in the garden, is often rendered useless by the choice of inappropriate materials.
On the other hand, garden mulch consistently performs its primary function.
- It inhibits the growth of weeds.
- water evaporation is minimized (in mulch, the water stays in the soil longer)
- mulched seedbeds are not threatened by surface crusting and compaction, and with garden mulch, there is no need to loosen the soil
- the activity of useful microorganisms and worms increases; garden mulch provides them with nutrients, protects and creates the most favorable conditions for the soil microbiota
- garden mulch protects the soil from water and wind erosion
- The garden mulch reliably protects the plants from slugs.
- Plants are not affected by drastic temperature fluctuations, overheating and overcooling and the garden mulch acts as a kind of diurnal temperature “equalizer”, making growing conditions more stable.
- The depth of soil frost is reduced, allowing plants to develop more quickly and be harvested earlier.
- Fruits and berries are protected from contamination and decay.
WHAT IS THE IDEAL GARDEN MULCH?
Every soil and every bed is different. And for each person, the ability to garden mulch with different materials is different. Experience will tell you which garden mulch will “work” best for your garden and which is inconvenient, too expensive, or ineffective.
There is no perfect “recipe” for garden mulch beds. The main thing is to have garden mulch – and all you can do is protect the soil. If you have a choice, you should always lean toward organic materials that enrich the soil. But any garden mulch can perform its function, albeit in slightly different ways.
As for the garden as a whole, the mulches that can be used for seedbeds fall into just two categories.
They have different effects and functions. Inorganic materials ensure better moisture retention and completely stop the growth of weeds, while organic materials, while not forming such an absolute barrier, are a source of humus and organic matter.
If in ornamental gardens, garden mulch is chosen not for its practicality but for its decorative qualities, then for vegetable gardens, aesthetics are a “side effect”. Garden mulch is always temporary, it is created after sowing and is broken during the process of digging up crops and collecting plants in order to protect the soil again in winter.
And it is rational to choose this kind of garden mulch suitable for vegetable gardens – the lower layer will be a good source of organic matter and the upper layer will be mineralized by aerobic microorganisms, replenishing the soil with minerals. A garden mulch similar to natural ground cover is more suitable for beds. However, if inorganic materials are available, they can be used with confidence.
Any organic material can be used to garden mulch a vegetable garden, but it is best to consider.
- weeds, nettles, burdocks.
- post-harvest green manure, tracts, crop residues.
- mown grass (lawns and meadows).
- mature compost.
- mature humus.
- hay, straw.
To a lesser extent, when mixing, you can also use.
- dried leaves;
- sawn material, including chopped branches and large areas of deciduous trees, sawdust.
- purchased materials – bark, chopped coconut fiber, cocoa pulp, hemp waste, flax, chopped ferns, dried peat, pressed or granulated garden mulch.
From inorganic materials in the bed will be appropriate only a special black film (opaque), which prevents the growth of weeds and evaporation. It should be spaced in advance on the basis of good fertilization and loosening of the soil.
Pebbles, gravel, and coarse sand should be used in the garden only for perennial vegetables, but it is better to limit them to berry bushes, thoroughly clean the gravel and introduce more organic fertilizer into the soil before.
MATERIAL OF GARDEN MULCH
One can argue endlessly about what kind of garden mulch is better, and everyone has their own taste and budget, but one thing is undeniable – if you combine several materials, the quality of the garden mulch will only improve. The same principle applies here as with composting.
If you combine nitrogen-rich “green” materials (grass, green manure, weeds) with dry, carbon-containing “brown” ingredients (straw, bark, dried leaves), you can get close to the ideal composition.
Carbonaceous materials alone should only be used in the fall because they are too heavy, cause nitrogen fixation, can clump, and are too compacted if not diluted with nitrogen components or spread without cowpeas or green manure.
HOW AND WHEN TO GARDEN MULCH?
The main thing is not to be too eager to cover the soil with a protective layer. The garden mulch shades the plants and creates a big obstacle to their growth, so when the seedlings grow up and strong, the garden mulch is sorted out and perennial vegetables – grow. Of course, it is also necessary to wait until the weather is warm before mulching the beds.
In the intermediate zone, mulching of plants and crops in the vegetable garden usually begins in late May and continues as needed (also with new plants) until the bare soil is mulched under winter.
Mulching is done again after the soil is loosened. The “fresh” grass, weeds, and huckleberries should be withered for at least 2-3 days.
Determining how much a layer of garden mulch should be, especially when several different types of garden mulch are mixed, can sometimes be difficult. An effective layer of mulch is 2-2.4inch (5-6cm) and beds do not need a thicker layer of garden mulch.
If the garden mulch layer exceeds 2.8inch (7cm), the material will be too compacted and rotten. If the thickness is optimal, the upper layer tends to dry (and mineralize), and the lower layer – to be processed by microorganisms into humus. A garden mulch of readily degradable organic material should be renewed every 2-3 weeks, but usually on an as-needed basis.
To maximize the effectiveness of organic material garden mulch, it is reasonable to use it together with microbial preparations. Watering simple beneficial microbial products, in addition to performing their proper plant protection function, stimulates accelerated humus formation and provides natural nutrients to plants.