Mulch what is the best type, how to use and when? Well I attempt to fill you in with my personal experience and some of the research I have done into new types. Most of my info relates to veggie garden mulching but I have been mulching our flower beds too.
So like most of my recent research I always start with a visit to one of my favorite web sites http://en.wikipedia.org I love this site always informative and always a great place to start. So what does Wikipedia have to say about mulch; “In agriculture and gardening, mulch is a protective cover placed over the soil, primarily to modify the effects of the local climate. A wide variety of natural and synthetic materials are used.” See here for more info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulch.
My reason to mulch is weed control. I’m not my Aunt who has the most weed free garden of anybody I have known. Of course there are other advantages; reduced watering, control of ground temp, and improved plant production. But for me the weed control is number 1, life is too short to weed a garden.
There are lots of different mulch for gardens some of the ones I have read about are plastic, landscape fabric, straw, grass clippings, cardboard/paper, and of course wood chippings, shredding, or bark chucks. I have tried some and not others my experience so far has been with plastic, landscape fabric, and straw. Grass clippings I don’t collect we leave them on the lawn for the grass, cardboard/paper just seems like it would be a pain. I have used the wood in the flower beds.
The claim that mulch will improve plant production is an interesting claim and what is the cause of that claim more moisture retention, weed control or temperature. I haven’t come across any scientific proof that the yields are higher with mulch but it seems to me that when I grew tomatoes on black landscape fabric my yield was the best I have had, so far.
Bio-degradable Plastic Film Mulch: This product has some advantages; bio-degradable, retains moisture, controls weeds. Some disadvantages of it are expense, fussy to lay down and some personal questions as to long-term soil and leaching issue, also gets caught in the tiller if not decomposed at tilling time.
Landscape Fabric: This was the first types of mulch that we tried at our home we did it two years in a row and had some good experiences with it. Advantages of this product are it retains moisture, controls weeds, and is potentially reusable very durable at a reasonable cost. It like most things has some disadvantages also; time consuming to lay down and secure, need to cut opening for rows and plants before seeding, because of the cutting it gives opportunity for weed production.
Straw: This year I have decided on straw for my method of mulching, I went to a local farmer and got 12 bales of straw more then I need but will use the extra for my compost and cold frame trial this year. Straw has some big advantages over the other types so far. Biodegradable and will benefit the soil condition when turned under, easy to get around the base of plants to chock out weeds growing next to the steam, easy to lay down and easy to reapply more if the weeds try and grow through it. Plus my now beagle gets to obsess about mice since I have the extra bails in my garden shed and a mouse made a nest in there now. He bound he is going to get it. Disadvantages so far seem to be it can blow over new plants and chock them but that is easy to fix, and might blow over to my neighbors.
The other methods of grass and cardboard/paper I personally don’t have any desire to attempt but if anybody has I would love to know how it worked for them.
So as of this time I’m a big fan of straw