The importance of mulch in the garden

Winter through to early spring is an underestimated period in the garden, often thought of a time to batten down the hatches and venture out as little as possible. Although this is far from the truth. We believe, as many gardeners do, it is the investment time in your garden, improving the soil and the borders is a large part of that, when managing a garden, mulching is one of the last processes we apply ready for the growing season ahead.

Garden mulching, in simpler terms, is adding a thick layer of a material over the surface of your borders, this can be organic, such as farmyard manure or inorganic such as decorative stone. The mulch could be laid straight onto the soil surface or in some cases laid on a membrane.

The choice of an organic or inorganic mulch is all yours, but do consider that an inorganic mulch is inert, meaning it does not hold any nutritional value and therefore will not benefit the soil or the plants.

The benefit of an organic mulch hugely out ways the inorganic option. Most mulches also provide a great aesthetic appearance, so here at Your Garden Needs, we always choose organic and most commonly well-rotted, heat-treated horse manure, brought in by a specialist supplier.

An organic mulch has many benefits,

  • Helps soils retain moisture
  • Reduces watering
  • Suppresses weeds
  • Improves soil organic matter content
  • Improves soil structure
  • Provides nutrients
  • Deters some pests
  • Warms up soil in spring
  • Protects plant roots from extreme hot and cold temperatures
  • Encourages beneficial soil organisms
  • Provides a barrier for edible crops coming into contact with soil
  • Gives a decorative finish

Once the main interest of the gardens has passed, we aim to work thoroughly through the borders, clearing leaves, unwanted weeds and thoroughly cultivating the soil. This allows additional air to percolate through the soil structure which has been slowly compacted over the year, it also allows us to incorporate any organic matter that was mulched in the previous year before spreading a fresh new layer.

We aim to leave as much of the structure in the garden as possible. By leaving finished plant stems and seed heads, which can provide a great source of winter interest and nutrition for local wildlife.

Then in comes the mulch. In many of our gardens, we manage our garden waste by composting, a post for another time maybe, as there are many ways to achieve a good home-grown compost. We will use our own recycled compost 1st, although this often doesn’t go the whole distance, so are required to buy-in.

We find that using well-rotted, heat-treated manure provides the best organic matter/nutrient content whilst still providing great aesthetics once laid. We spread this all over the planted borders in a 5cm thick layer to achieve all the benefits listed above.

Be careful when spreading though, as when done incorrectly can cause more problems than good.

  • If the mulch is in direct contact with the stems of trees or specimen shrubs, they can cause the stem to soften, making it vulnerable to diseases.
  • Be careful not to smother your herbaceous plants, this could suffocate them and inhibit growth for the season ahead.

So, despite it being cold and wet outside, when it is all too easy to stay indoors, get out there and use this slower time, to invest in your garden for the busy growing seasons ahead.

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