Organic mulches generally include compost (grass clipping and leaves), straw, pine bark or pine needles and wood chips.
Mulching your beds and your gardens should become an integral part of your regular maintenance, for many reasons:
- Less weeding – A thick layer of organic mulch (generally one to two inches) chokes out weeds and makes your life much easier. Mulching allows you to better enjoy the fruits of your labor without spending your time weeding.
- Keeps the soil temperature cooler in the summer – Unmulched soil heats up quickly in the summer, which discourages root growth near the soil’s surface. Mulched soil, however, is better insulated, thereby keeping the soil cooler in the summer’s hottest days. It is also especially useful around buildings, patios, sidewalks and driveways, as these areas can have incredibly hot surfaces during the summer (which then heats up the nearby soil).
- Maintains the soil temperature in the winter – Mulched soil is slower to freeze in the fall, thereby extending the plant’s growing period. It also protects the plants, making them less likely to be damaged during the harsh winter or during freeze/thaw cycles.
- Protects the soil from erosion – Mulched beds hold the soil and prevent it from washing away, even during heavy rains.
- Keeps you clean while gardening – Mulched soil protects your hands and feet from the mud and dirt in your garden.
- Keeps your vegetables and fruit clean – Mulched soil doesn’t just keep you clean, but it keeps your vegetables and fruit clean too!
- Improves the condition of the soil – As organic mulches break down, they decompose, which releases nutrients into the soil that benefit plant growth. Decomposing mulch also improves the root growth of the plant by increasing the infiltration of air and keeping the soil loose.
- Improves drainage – The decomposition of organic mulches causes clay soils to loosen up, thereby improving water drainage and encouraging root growth.
- Inhibits fungal growth – Studies have shown that organic mulch inhibits the growth of certain fungi. Shredded pine and small pieces of pine bark have been shown to effectively prevent fungal growth.
- Cuts down on watering – A one to two-inch layer of organic mulch greatly reduces surface evaporation, thereby cutting down on watering time and saving you from a panic attack every time your water bill arrives.
- It looks pretty – Organic mulch easily and quickly hides uneven, unsightly soil and instead provides a lovely backdrop to your landscaped beds of flowers and shrubs.
Why not inorganic mulch?
Inorganic mulch has many benefits, as well, although it does not boast the soil-improving qualities of organic mulch. Organic mulch is typically much less expensive than inorganic mulch and is readily available.
Like organic mulch, inorganic mulch, such as landscaping fabric, landscaping plastic and rubber mulch, also offers weed-suppressing qualities and can be a nice addition to your outdoor beds and gardens. However, it is often difficult to remove, making it impractical for short-term use.