Your garden success requires two things: weed control and pest control. Gardening success means supplying adequate water and sufficient nutrients. (Just like us and our pets!)
When I started my first garden some 40+ years ago, mulch was a common term I had read many times in Mother Earth News Magazine. I eagerly devoured its contents when it arrived each month; dreaming of having a root cellar (like my grandma), a butterfly garden, or raising the latest exotic chicken. For a country kid, it was a feast for the eyes and imagination. It was there I first met the Queen of Mulch, Ruth Stout.
It’s what nature does and look how well she does it…
Consider the forest. Nature doesn’t sit around waiting to be fertilized.
Each year, trees and plants shed their leaves or simply die. The decomposing plant life produces tons of decaying matter. The rotting vegetable matter becomes food which feeds the soil; in turn, the soil feeds the trees and plants as they take up the vital nutrients through their roots.
Decaying matter (mulch) attracts beneficial earthworms. Earthworms are nature’s fertilizers and a gardener’s friend. Avoid exposing your earthworms to the daylight (especially the hot sun), it dries out their delicate bodies and they can die.
Keeps Your Soil Moist
Keeping your garden covered with mulch saves not only time weeding, but our most vital resource, water. Don’t worry about rain reaching your plant’s roots. Adequate rainfall will have no problem getting through your mulch and into the earth.
Keeps the Weeds Down
No weeds, no hard work. Weeds can take over a garden in no time at all. Weeds compete with your plants for food and water, and often harbor “bad bugs.”
Mulch protects the soil from the sun, preserving moisture for your garden plants.
Keeps Your Garden Tidy
Mulching around your garden plants keeps dirt from getting on you and your clothing after a soaking rain. It also works well on pathways and between rows.
What Kind of Mulch Should You Use?
Grassmakes perfect mulch; however, unless you have a huge lawn or can get it from neighbors, it won’t go very far. Gather grass clippings only from those who garden organically. Conventional fertilizers and herbicides/pesticides are toxic and many folks are using human sewage sludge disguised as compost or fertilizer. Your garden plants take in these toxins from the soil which feeds the plant and you. (Another really good reason to eat organic as much as possible.)
Leaves- Any kind will do. Mow them with a mulching mower. Gather leaves from your friend’s and neighbor’s lawns. Make fall leaf gathering a family event!
Spread the leaves over your garden or bag them in heavy duty bags if you won’t need them until the next spring.
Spoiled hay- If you live near a farm, you can often get free or greatly discounted hay that is spoiled.
Straw- Don’t worry about “weed seeds.” If the mulch is thick enough weeds won’t grow through it. Some may sprout near or at the top of your mulch but they are easy to pull…
Weeds destined for the compost pile. One caveat here, NEVER leave grass seedlings in your garden. They'll reroot very fast.
CAUTION: Use hay, leaves, etc., that has not been sprayed with harmful chemicals. You'll be poisoning your food if you do!
How Much is Enough?
About 8 inches of mulch works well to keep weeds down. If you have an area that is full of grass, don’t till it! Mulch it! It’ll take about a year, but it’s so worth it. When planting seeds you will of course, need bare ground. Mulch your seedlings as soon as possible to keep the soil moist.
In times of drought, I have saved many a garden with a thick layer of mulch. When weeds begin to grow through your mulch that is your cue it’s time to add more.
After you have mulched for a few years, you will have a garden, rich from rotting vegetable matter. And you can expect to have beautiful soil that feeds your garden plants and you! Feeding you naturally, the way Nature/God intended.
The "Queen of Mulch, Ruth Stout, has been my heroine for decades. Her no-nonsense approach to gardening takes the work and the worry out of creating a beautiful and productive garden. Her books are fun & chocked full of anecdotal wisdom. (You can find them below.)