In your mission to improve your garden’s appearance and condition, you probably came across a technique known as mulching.
Mulching a garden or yard means spreading a layer of organic or inorganic material -in the form of sheets or loose bits- over it. This material is called mulch and it comes in a wide range of types, any of which you can use as a soil covering.
Many homeowners are interested in installing this protective layer, but their biggest concern is the effect of mulch on plants.
Is mulch good for plants? Does it help or hinder plant growth? Can mulch burn plants? I’m answering all these questions and more in today’s guide.
Yes, mulch can have a highly positive impact on the growth of plants in your garden.
Mulch can improve the condition and drainage of the soil, prolong the exposure of roots to necessary moisture, and introduce beneficial compounds to the soil. It can also prevent the build-up of heat, and combat weeds as well as plant diseases.
These effects contribute to the growth and thriving of healthier and stronger plants.
Plants can greatly benefit from a layer of mulch covering their soil. Here’s a breakdown of what mulch can do for your plants:
1 – It Locks Moisture Into the Soil
One of the biggest advantages of topping your soil with a layer of mulch is increasing the soil’s capacity to retain moisture.
Mulch acts as a barrier that blocks the evaporative action of the sun as it shines over your soil. Less evaporation means that the soil loses less water by evaporation.
Not only does this aid the growth and thriving of existing plants, but it’s also a great way to support establishing young seedlings.
Mulch keeps the moisture present in the soil around the newly formed roots so they can absorb as much water and nutrients as they need to settle.
A 2- or 3-inch mulch layer can preserve moisture while still allowing air and water to reach plant roots.
Another huge benefit to using mulch, particularly the organic types, is that it provides the soil with many valuable nutrients for growth.
That’s because mulch breaks down over time and releases organic matter into the soil. This organic deposit improves the health and fertility of the soil, which makes for better and healthier plants.
This also means that adding mulch to your garden can save you money on fertilizers in the long run. Not to mention, a mulch layer can also act as a barrier to prevent the leaching of nutrients out of the soil.
So not only does organic mulch introduce nutrients, but it also keeps them where they should be.
A layer of mulch can provide a reliable line of protection against harmful weeds.
The presence of a sufficiently thick mulch layer can effectively block sunrays from reaching weed seeds.
When weed seeds don’t receive enough sunlight, they’ll fail to sprout. Consequently, weed growth and spread are disrupted.
As such, plants won’t need to compete with weeds for resources, leading to healthier and more robust growth.
About 3 to 4 inches of thickness should be enough to smother weeds and significantly reduce the number of weeds you have to worry about.
Not many people know this, but plants’ health and growth can get hindered if their soil gets too hot or too cold.
Luckily, mulch can help regulate the soil’s temperature and support your plants’ survival. It can serve as an insulating blanket for the surface of the soil, keeping it slightly cooler in hot weather and slightly warmer in cold weather.
This is especially essential for surface roots (also known as feeder roots) as they can be very sensitive to extreme temperatures.
Mulch can also help keep your plants disease-free.
A generous layer of mulch can prevent the disease-carrying spores living in the soil from spreading onto your plants.
If you’re managing a fruit or vegetable garden, mulch can be an effective tool in protecting your foliage and produce.
Mulch can even prove quite useful in combating soil erosion, compaction, and crusting – especially when it’s the result of foot traffic.
By laying down 2 or 4 inches of mulch, you can avoid these unfortunate scenarios as well as prevent loss of valuable topsoil and run-off.
7 – It Provides Structural Support for New Plants
If you have young plants in your garden, you may want to cover their surrounding soil with a layer of mulch.
Not only does this boost the availability of water and nutrients, but it also provides the seedling with structural support. This helps fend off damage from wind, passersby, and so on.
Last but not least, adding mulch on top of the soil supports the biological activity taking place in it.
Mulch provides food to plant-friendly microorganisms and insects (such as earthworms) so they can keep benefiting the plants.
Over time, organic mulch breaks down and releases organic matter into the soil. This adds nutrients and minerals -such as nitrogen and phosphorus- to the soil, boosting plant health and growth.
Generally speaking, plants can go through mulch without issues as king as you do it right.
A 3- or 4-inch deep layer of mulch can effectively stunt the growth of weeds, but it shouldn’t affect the growth of plants.
If you go thicker, then the mulch layer may suffocate the roots and make it difficult for plants and bulbs to grow.
That’s because water and air won’t be able to thoroughly penetrate the mulch layer, leaving the roots thirsty, hungry, and oxygen-deprived. Additionally, too much mulch can cause an excessive build-up of heat in the soil, which can damage your plants.
Mulch doesn’t normally burn plants if it’s appropriately thick, dry, and stable.
If you add a too-thick layer of mulch, if the mulch is wet, or if the mulch contains a lot of nitrogen-rich components, then a risk of burn is possible. That’s because too much mulch will retain more heat.
Also, wet mulch and nitrogen-rich materials mean an accelerated rate of decomposition, which releases heat into the soil and can affect plant roots if they’re close enough.
So, is mulch good for plants? The answer is yes.
A generous layer of mulch that’s not too thick can improve the soil’s ability to retain moisture, introduce nutrients, regulate soil temperature, suppress weed growth, and deter plant diseases.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.