You must have come across the word ‘Mulch’ a lot of times in the agricultural jargon in last 5 to 10 years. A terminology this widely used needs to be better understood for efficiency and profitability of any business or sector. Lets us have an in-depth sight into what ‘Mulching’ actually is.
The word Mulch means any material that is laid or spread manually over the surface of the soil to provide covering. Mulches are loose sheets of materials placed over the cultivated soil.
Environment plays a vital role in how well plant roots are anchored and how healthy the plant is going to be. Trees that grow in natural forest environment have their roots anchored in a rich, well-aerated soil which is full of essential nutrients and soil microorganisms. The soil in these forests is naturally blanketed by leaves, organic materials, and living organisms that replenish and recycle nutrients making it fertile for cultivation. This cycle is an ongoing process of nature; whereas, urban landscapes and new developments have typically harsher environments with poor quality of soils, reduced organic matter with large fluctuations in soil temperature and moisture. If applying a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch can mimic a more natural environment and improve plant health then it is by far the most beneficial thing that’s discovered in the agricultural sector.
Mulching is used to improve the soil quality around plants, help retain moisture in soil during harsh summers, prevent weeds from growing around the plants, and protect the roots of the plants during winter season. Apart from improving soil quality, mulching is also used to cover the surface of compost in containers. It also increases the aesthetic look of a garden bed making it look more attractive.
Mulches can be categorized into mainly two types:
Natural materials like leaf mould, garden compost, well rotted manure, straw (for strawberries), spent hops, mushroom compost, lawn clippings, pine needles, hardwood and softwood bark, cocoa hulls, leaves, seaweed, compost mixes, and a variety of other products usually derived from plants are used as a layer to cover soil. These materials break down gradually to release the important nutrients into the soil and improve its structure. Organic mulches decompose in the landscape at different rates depending on the material, climate, and soil microorganisms present. Those that decompose faster must be replenished more often. Because the decomposition process improves soil quality and fertility, many arborists and other landscape professionals consider that characteristic a positive one, despite the added maintenance.
Inorganic or non-biodegradable mulches include slate, shingle, pebbles, gravel, stone chippings, lava rock, pulverized rubber, geotextile fabrics and other materials which are often used as a mulch across beds. Crushed CDs, sea shells, tumbled glass and similar materials can be used on the surface of containers. Non-biodegradable mulches do not boost the fertility or structure of the soil, but they do suppress weeds, conserve moisture and some have the added advantage of looking decorative. Sheet mulches or woven landscape fabric are ideal for new beds or borders.
Mulches are best applied from mid- to late spring and autumn, when the soil is moist and warm. It is best to avoid applying mulches in winter and early spring as the soil is too cold, and in summer, when its too dry. They can be applied around new plantings or to established beds and specimen plants.