My husband thinks my ideas for mulching in the garden are a little silly or over the top but he still goes along with it 🙂
I’ve been doing a lot of reading the last few days (I’m less and less apt to get off the couch during nap time, and now that I’ve officially hit 40 weeks I’m done even pretending I’m going to be productive during naps!) and I’ve read some interesting things about mulching.
So I tried it today!
Why mulch? All of these reasons seem so obvious when laid out this way and yet most gardeners (I’m talking the novices like me at least) don’t even consider mulching!
1) To keep the weeds in check, they can’t poke up through mulch as easily as bare earth.
2) To keep the soil moist during the hot and sunny days of summer.
3) To keep the soil cool during the day and warm at night.
4) To add nutrients to the soil.
When I read about these reasons my reaction was, well DUH to all of them! It makes sense that the way that forests and wild areas grow would be the best way, cause Nature knows what she’s doing, right? I like to think so. I do have some questions, like how do you lay down mulch (and keep it down year round) and let tiny plants like carrots germinate and grow? Wouldn’t they be stifled by the mulch? Maybe you should clear away the mulch until plants are established then re-mulch around them. Obviously I still have a lot of questions but I still think mulching is a smart way to garden.
1) Weeds. I hate them. I hate weeding and last year with my very small garden I barely weeded at all. I’m sure my plants could have done a bit better if I had kept up with the weeding (weeds steal the nutrients from the soil that I want my plants to get) but they did fine as it was. This year the garden is MUCH bigger and because it’s mostly raised beds I feel like the weeds are staring me in the face and mocking me. I’m going to have to start weeding at least one bed a day (there are a total of 9 so I will have to double up some days). Mulching now that my plants are established will help with that immensely!
2) Moisture. Last year I don’t feel like I watered very often once the seeds were up and established. I would water if we went more than three days without rain but as I recall that happened very rarely (maybe I was just super lucky last year!). This year I’ve been watering almost every day that it doesn’t rain because I keep planting new seeds and/or I have seeds that are slow to germinate (my carrots took a long time and I’ve heard that parsnips take forever, haven’t seen one yet). Knowing that the moisture isn’t evaporating every sunny day will give me peace of mind and save our water costs. I have checked deep down in the soil and over all it’s stayed damp deep down (which is what you want) but that’s with my regular watering (next year: soaker hoses).
3) Temperature. Temperatures in the desert fluctuate wildly from sunny days to dark nights because there is nothing to hold the heat in (sand don’t cut it). Mulch acts as a temperature trap. During the day mulch warms the soil but prevents it from being scorched, at night the heat trapped under the mulch stays trapped keeping the soil blanketed and warm. Certain plants really don’t like having their roots get too hot during the day like corn and peas (conversely corn really likes hot conditions for germination which is why you can/should put black mulch plastic down in the week preceding planting to warm the soil up). If I can get an extra week or two of my peas I’ll be thrilled, I’m feeling super behind already because of our late planting this year.
4) Nutrients. I have yet to get organized enough to fertilize. I have a frame for a cold compost bin but the chicken wire isn’t strung around so all our compost material goes into the trash (I tried putting it out in a pile but I was just feeding the raccoons). Again if we look at nature forest floors are covered with natural compost decaying and supplying the forest soil with a constantly replenishing source of nutrients. Certain things are better for mulching than others (newly fallen leaves have things you don’t want too much of in the soil whereas grass clippings or well composted organic material is great).
Okay, enough of the REASONS for mulching I thought I’d give it a try. I decided to use what I have on hand at the moment to mulch my peas (the corn is still pretty small).
First, I shredded some newspaper (with my helpers). I read that shredding works better than sheets because sheets blow around more. Plus I was mulching around existing plants that were closely spaced so it made sense to have small pieces.
Next, I tucked the shredded paper in around the base of the plants, it ended up being about two-three inches thick (it will flatten down). I made sure to place it in a well weeded area (which of course means I was weeding as I went, the peas are really thick and they hide weeds well–another reason to mulch!). In retrospect I should have mulched when the plants were a couple of inches tall instead of waiting until they were almost two feet tall! Next year…
After that I placed the grass clippings from the mowing yesterday on top of the paper. My rational was that it would hold down the paper a bit and that grass clippings are good as compost in the garden.
Finally, I heavily watered the area. I didn’t want to sit in mud as I dealt with the mulching but I really should have watered FIRST and then the mulch would have held the moisture in better. I just made sure to water well, knowing that the paper and grass would soak up a lot of the water.
and VOILA a beautifully mulched area… the newspapers I had covered a lot smaller area than I expected so I’ll have to get more. I’m tempted to just do that one area to experiment with it (you always need a control area) but most likely it’ll just come down to what I feel like doing tomorrow in my hugely pregnant state 🙂