The Benefits of Using Organic Mulch in Your Landscape

Mulching is the act of adding a protective barrier around your plants and, in the process, covering the bare soil. You can make this barrier using a number of organic materials like wood chips, straw, pine needles and cocoa bean shells. Although other mulches exist, like black plastic and river rocks, this article is going to focus on the use of organic materials and why this type is better. *Hint* Stump removal debris makes excellent mulch!

Since organic mulches like wood chips decompose over time, they tend to enrich the soil with nutrients and useful microorganisms like nitrifying bacteria. Also, a beneficial fungus is increased while the undesirable pathogens are prohibited.

Increasing the organic matter will lead to improved soil tilth and drainage, loosen it, offer a great breeding ground for earthworms, and increase moisture retention in the earth. Because it tends to decompose over time, you will need to replace it. How often you replace it depends on which type of mulches you used, and it can vary from one to four years. Below are benefits offered by organic mulching:

Weed Control

Weeds tend to give homeowners and gardeners headaches. However, if you choose to mulch your plants, one of the benefits you will receive is weed prevention. Or at least a significant reduction in the amount of weeds. One thing to note, however, is that mulching does not kill weeds and  you should remove any that are present before applying your wood chips.

Also, water the area thoroughly to allow the mulch to adjust and offer a protective barrier for your soil. In turn, it will stop weed seeds from germinating and thriving in your garden.

Prevents Erosion

Mulching will reduce the impact of water coming into contact with the soil either from irrigation or the rain. Also, if your landscape is sloped, there is a big risk of runoff when irrigating your landscape plants or during the rainy season. Mulches will retain water and the water eventually finds its way into the soil below. This is nature’s way of saving the rain for later.

Adds Nutrients

Over time, organic mulching options like wood chips will decompose and break down, becoming a part of your garden soil. Over time, the need to add additional fertilizer is reduced and often eliminated.

Protective Barrier

A layer of mulch moderates soil temperature, keeping roots warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The insulation effect also helps in water retention, which, in turn, reduces the amount of water you need to irrigate your plants with on a daily basis.

Creates Curb Appeal

Mulching will help you add depth and dimension to your landscape. Instead of leaving your soil exposed, use wood chips to enhance its looks. You can decorate your yard however you want using mulch. Mulch dyes are available in many colors and are easy to apply.

Other benefits include:

• A circle of mulch such as wood chips around your trees and shrubs will help shield roots near the soil from damage that can be caused by lawnmower blades and string trimmers.
• Some mulching materials emit scents that help deter feline pests and rodents.

One thing to note, though, is that the mulch layer should not exceed 3-4 inches in depth to avoid blocking moisture and air from getting into the soil. This can lead to roots shooting from the underground and getting exposed to the surface. A layer that is too thick can also create an environment that will allow undesirable microbes to thrive. It is also important to make sure that the mulch does not come into contact with tree trunks. Tree trunks need to breathe and should not be constantly moist.

What to Expect from Organic Mulches

The following are an example of the specific effects on either the soil or plant growth:

Physical Effects

Mulches tend to change the soil structure, thus increasing root growth. Using mulching materials like wood chips, leaves, and sphagnum peat moss offers an instant effect. Clay type soil, like we have here in northern Colorado, becomes better aerated while the sandy type soils increase water-holding capacity.

If your mulching material is not yet decomposed, it will enhance granulation since soil micro-organisms tend to secrete a sticky substance that helps with soil granulation. This is a very important process, especially in heavy soil types. Granulation creates spaces within the soil to retain water and air.

If you cultivate your garden when your soil is very wet, you will destroy its structure. With mulches, you won’t have to cultivate often. You can also destroy the soil structure by walking through your garden when the soil is wet. Mulching will, however, cushion your soil, thus reducing the damage.

Chemical Effects

Your soil’s pH may be affected by your choice of organic mulches. For example, sphagnum peat will lower the pH while other mulches tend to do the opposite, making your soil more alkaline.

Using quickly decomposing mulches like fresh leaves or wood chips will increase the nitrogen levels in the soil. Failure to add a source of nitrogen regularly will lead to a nitrogen deficiency in your soil. In a forest setting, nitrogen is added from decaying leaves and other plant debris. In the urban environment, these items are usually routinely removed, thus creating the need to add nitrogen by some other means.

Biological Effects

Soil microorganisms feed on organic mulches. Sometimes, undesirable organisms are present in the soil. Adding organic mulches to your soil will make sure the good microbes are well fed and can out-compete the bad microbes for space.

It is possible to introduce weed seeds into your soil with straw and hay. If you use grain hulls or corncobs, ensure they don’t contain any grains or seeds.

As you can see from the information above, there is no reason you shouldn’t be using organic mulch, particularly wood chips, in your landscape. If you need a resource for free wood chips here is a great place to start. So go ahead and cover your landscape with organic mulches. You will be rewarded with a beautiful landscape.

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