Science Wednesday! Why do we use mulch?

Every spring I’m treated to the wafting aroma of fresh mulch as I take Bonnie on her twice-daily walks. To me, mulch smells like money but I get that it doesn’t have the same positive associations for everyone. If you’re not as big a fan of the mulch as I am you may wonder: why do we use mulch?

why do we use Mulch

Why do we use mulch? 3 Reasons

There are compelling reasons for using mulch. First and foremost, mulch helps retain moisture in the soil. If you’re planting anything at all, the very next thing you should do once your holes are backfilled is rake the bed smooth and install a healthy layer of mulch. Then you can water. Your plants will thank you!

Weed suppression is another key benefit of mulch. That’s not to say that you can throw four inches of mulch over a square of lawn and voila! it’s a bed, but over a properly prepared plant bed, mulch can help you stay ahead of the weed invasion.

Last, mulch can help protect your plants from temperature extremes. Mulch provides a layer of insulation that can mean the difference between tender perennials coming back next spring or not.

Organic vs. Other Mulches

Around here (Virginia) the standard mulch used is a shredded hardwood mulch. It looks good and it holds up well. There’s enough mass that it won’t blow away or wash off in the first rain, but it will still break down and provide nutrients and organic matter for your soil. You can also use leaf compost, shredded leaves, and even arborist’s wood chips for mulch too. If it’s organic it will eventually improve your soil, so I’m a fan.

Non-organic mulches won’t break down. For some folks this is considered a positive. Install once and you’re done, right? Well, maybe. But you’re always going to have weeds and dirt and debris, and how exactly does one clean that out of chips of ground up car tires, or tumbled glass? And non-organic mulches may retain too much heat, and bring nothing to the party in terms of soil health. I don’t see the point.

Mulch is a wonderful thing, as long as you choose your type for all the right reasons. Think of your plants first!

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