To mulch or not to mulch, that is the question

There comes a time in your life when, as much as you still enjoy your gardening, you don’t want it to be a back-breaker. You’ll take all the flowers, but you could well do without the challenges of the weeds, thanks very much! It’s at that time that mighty mulch comes under the microscope. Could it be the key to your bloomin’ future? Or as Shakespeare might have put it: to mulch or not to mulch, that is the question.

Keeping the weeds at bay

Some gardeners love to take on the weeds, in much the same way that Bear Grylls takes on the wild. But then there are others who’d be happy never to extract a weed manually from the soil ever again. They’re often the ones you’ll find mulching. That’s because mulch has the magical ability to prevent weeds from germinating. If they do manage to sneak past the first barrier of defence, they’re highly unlikely to grow to their full potential. Not only does that mean less work for you, it also means more nutrients for your plants.

Keeping your plants moist

Another quality of mulch that seriously reduces the workload for the gardener is its fantastic water-keeping qualities. Mulch wraps a cosy layer of insulation around your plants, so that moisture can’t escape very easily. For you, that means you don’t have to get around to watering anywhere near as often, so there’s more time for kicking back in the garden with a glass of fine wine and admiring the flowers. It also means that, if you’d like to go away on holiday for a spell, whoever’s looking after your garden will have less work and stress on their hands.

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Keeping things on the level

With global warming causing more and more erratic weather patterns, chaotic natural disasters and increasingly intense bouts of heat and cold, gardeners are having a tougher time keeping their plants on the level. Sudden, severe changes in temperature can have a detrimental effect on plants, occasionally destroying them altogether. However, mulch can help with this – its layer of ‘insulation’ not only keeps in the water, it also creates a more regular, temperate environment, providing protection from extreme heat and cold. In the height of winter, mulch can assist in preventing the phenomenon of ‘frost-heaving’. This occurs when extreme changes in temperature cause the soil to expand and contract, causing plants to be forced out of the ground.

Adding the good stuff

Mulch can also help to boost the amount, richness and variety of nutrition getting to your plants. But it does depend a bit on what type you use. Not all mulches are born equal. There are numerous types – some that look good but smell bad, some that look bad but smell good, some that look bad and smell bad, and so on. As far as nutrition goes, your best bet is compost. Its benefits are that you can make it yourself, so it’s free, and it’s packed full of goodness, which enriches the soil. Do remember, though, that compost is not necessarily the sweetest smelling mulch on the market, and you have to be careful not to use too much, as it can burn plants.

Boosting the earthworm population

The world needs more earthworms. Not only do they make great pets for three-year-old grandsons, they’re also really, really important for keeping our soil healthy and nutritious. Their busy activity improves the structure of the soil and ensures that nutrients are going through their necessary cyclical processes. Not all mulches attract earthworms – you need to use those made of organic materials.

By Tim Sparke, owner of 4 Pumps