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Why Mulch?

Mulching your garden will improve your plants’ health and save you time in the garden. They say time equals money. Well, mulching equals more spare time for you. So, if you are not already doing it, here is some “valuable” information. Many of us might already be mulching our flower beds to control weeds. But the benefits of mulching are not just limited to weed control. Mulching allows the soil to retain moisture and heat longer. It can extend a growing season. It also provides an environment that houses beneficial insects and works to improve your soil over time. Mulching can even reduce infestation.

You may very well be familiar with mulching when it comes to landscaping and flower beds. Landscapers often use mulch to keep weeds from overtaking their projects. So why not do the same in your garden? If you haven’t been mulching, then you’ve probably been busy fighting with weeds that compete for light, moisture and root space with your plants. But in today’s world time is precious commodity. And gardening is supposed to be a hobby, not another chore. Any idea that saves time is usually a good one. You can use straw as an inexpensive alternative to traditional mulches. By putting a thick layer down, you block new weed seeds from reaching the soil below while starving seeds that are already below of the light they need to thrive. This is not to say that it will block every weed. After all, life has a way of adapting to just about any obstacle. But it will certainly free up more time to spend on the more enjoyable endeavors in your garden.

Another way mulching saves you time is watering. Just as the mulch creates a barrier to weeds, it does so with moisture. Mulch blocks the sun’s rays from directly beating on the soil. At the same time, mulch keeps soil moisture from evaporating right out into the air where it disappears. After leaving the soil, moisture can remain in the mulch itself where it is still of more use to your plants than if it had dissipated. By conserving water, it means that you will spend less time watering. This is beneficial to the environment and to your water bill. Just like time is money, water is money. So even if you have a sprinkler system so that watering time is not so much an issue, mulching will still help you save in other ways.

Mulching can also benefit you timewise by extending your growing season. Just like mulch will help maintain moisture, it acts as an insulator. In this way, it can insulate the roots of late-season crops so that you may be able to get some extra growing time out of them. In some cases, mulching the roots can even help perennial plants survive the winter in an area where it might otherwise just miss being able to do so, due to cold temperatures. It may not do much for the leaves and branches of the plant. But if the roots are preserved, the rest of the plant will regenerate much quicker and stronger than growing from seed. Or depending on the case, this may save you the time and space of having to bring plants indoors for the winter.

On the other side of the spectrum, mulching can buy you time in the early part of the season too. Mulching can help you get an early start on the season with seeds you are sowing in the ground by helping keep the soil a little warmer. A loose layer of straw will also work well to help shade new seedlings from the intense sun until they get on their own feet. By this, we mean having a layer of straw (or other mulch) that is not packed so that there are gaps in between the pieces where seedlings can grow. The shadows created by the pieces of the mulch will create shading for seedlings just getting off to their start in life. As the seedlings grow, just add more mulch until you have the thick layer of mulch you will need later in the season. This shading will keep them from being stressed while improving their moisture supply to ensure your seedlings get off to a better start. And getting back to the concept of time, a better start should mean quicker growth. So you may spend just a little less time waiting for your plants to start producing.

Along with these benefits, mulching will also improve your soil quality. Healthy soil is an entire ecosystem with the plants only being one part. Mulching helps provide a home for beneficial insects, fungi and micro-organisms. Insects like ladybugs, centipedes and spiders help by feeding on potential pests. Mulching also has a tendency to attract earthworms, which are often good indicators of soil health. Earthworm castings, which is a nice way of referring to the solid waste of the worm, have countless benefits to the soil. Castings act as a fertilizer and can increase a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. The castings also contain bacterias and microorganisms that, just like the worms, help break down organic matter. As organisms break down the mulch, it will help provide additional nutrients to the soil. By working with nature’s natural chemistry you can forgo the monetary and health expenses of using chemical fertilizers.

Another good thing about mulch is that it allows you to foster that ecosystem in your garden in a way that it is partitioned. The microorganisms and insects that break down organic matter tend to lie primarily in the soil below the mulch. The mulch layer prevents splash up during watering that can introduce soil-borne diseases to the foliage of your plants. This mulch barrier also works out well for fruits like cucumbers and melons that may lie on the ground. While their roots can still partake in all the benefits of the mulch, the fruits can lay atop the mulch layer, keeping them away from excess moisture as well as many organisms that might invade the fruit. Instead, the fruits are left up above that layer with you, the one who will be doing all the eating.

At the start of this, you may have thought of mulching as just an extra thing to do in your gardening this year. But mulching is one of those extra steps that pays for itself. If you can take a single step that will save you time, money and at the same time increase productivity, then only poor planning should prevent that step from happening. We could go on further about the benefits of mulching, but this article is very much about saving time. And I think we’ve spent just enough to get the point across