Gardening with mulch can help your garden grow, but your plants will be happier and healthier if you know the dos and don’ts of using ground cover. Learn how to properly mulch in the garden from our article. Check out our tips and strategies to help you avoid mistakes and enjoy a successful garden.
Table of Contents
- Do not use material mixed with soil
- Keep woody material out of the vegetable patch
- Mulch properly in the garden: avoid fresh material
- Watch out for creeping plants
- Proper mulching in the garden: remove weeds
- Do not use too much material
- Mulch properly in the garden: do not use too little material
- Do not make mulch volcanoes around trees
- Avoid colored material
- Apply ground cover when sowing seeds
Do not use material mixed with soil
Mulch, compost and soil are different things. It is okay to mix compost into topsoil to improve it , but leave mulch on the surface. Mulch mixed with soil disturbs the nutrient balance and makes digging and weeding difficult.
Keep woody material out of the vegetable bed.
Be sure to never use woody mulch as a soil amendment in containers or in the ground, as it will bind available nitrogen during the rotting process, which could go to the plants you want to grow. For a vegetable garden, cheap compost is much better for ground cover than expensive ornamental woody mulch. A layer of woody material also makes it harder to quickly hoe weeds between rows because you have to remove the mulch first, weed, and then reapply the ground cover.
Mulch properly in the garden: avoid fresh material.
Ground cover such as shredded brush, manure or hay from pastures and hayfields can contain weed seeds, as well as herbicide residue that can kill your plants. Let fresh material sit for a few months to leach out residue and allow weed seeds to germinate and die. It’s even better to compost it before using it.
Watch out for creeping plants
Plants that spread by creeping stems, especially lawn grasses such as bermudagrass, are sometimes so vigorous that they can grow directly under ground cover. Don’t spread ground cover on or near these plants if you can avoid it. Instead, you can keep them in check with borders that run above and below the ground, or dig a small trench along the bed so you can see the runners trying to invade and remove them before they get into the mulch layer.
Mulching properly in the garden: removing weeds.
While a good ground cover can suppress small, young weeds, don’t expect it to magically eliminate established weeds. It’s better to remove large weeds or they will come back through.
Do not use too much material
Plant roots need oxygen to survive, and very deep ground cover can limit supply. Also , fungi can become a problem if the layer is too thick . Fungal mats can form, forcing back the water you are trying to conserve by applying ground cover. One inch of material is sufficient and more economical. Depending on the species, loose ground cover should be applied in layers 3 to 8 inches thick. Applying almost any type of mulch in layers that are too thick can lead to the same problems that occur when plants “vulcanize.” (We’ll talk about this later in our article).
Proper mulching in the garden: not too little material
If you don’t apply enough material, it won’t stop the weeds from pushing through. It won’t keep the soil nice and moist, and it won’t help you conserve water. Basically, it doesn’t do its job. Since mulch is organic, it will settle and look thin over time. That means it will decompose, enriching the soil and making it more fertile. It’s still hard at work improving your landscape, but when it’s thin, it won’t look as great. So don’t try to extend your hard-working ground cover another season. Plan to replace it every spring. You can also add an extra layer in the fall to keep it looking fresh all year.
Don’t make mulch volcanoes around trees.
While it’s a good idea to put mulch around trees, don’t pile it on the trunk of the tree. This is because it can cause the tree’s root collar to stay too moist and rot. It can also allow insects to bore into the trunk and weaken it. A little space should be left between the ground cover and the trunk of the tree. Also, do not mound ground cover directly against other plants such as shrubs and perennials. Make sure there is at least a few inches of space between their trunks and the material.
Avoid colored material
If you use bagged mulch, read the label because some products contain natural dyes, while others may be sprayed-on dyes that are full of toxins that are harmful to pets and children. They can seep into the soil and destroy beneficial microbes. Instead, use composted leaves, which look more natural and improve the soil. Leaf litter also provides overwintering habitat for butterflies and other beneficial insects. It is a natural, renewable resource that people bag up and throw away, then use wood mulch to cover the same beds! For you to mulch properly in the garden, be more calm: nature knows what it is doing.
Put on ground cover when sowing seeds.
When sowing new seeds is generally recommended to sprinkle a thin layer of ground cover over it, and with a purpose: it should retain moisture so that the seeds do not dry out.