Compost has many benefits when used in the garden, but even people who already use it in the soil should consider mulching too. The loose, organic material is packed with nutrients that benefit purposeful plants at the same time as deterring weeds. But while anyone can make their own mulch, using it correctly is crucial to reap the full benefits.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Steve Chilton, a gardening expert from Leisure Bench said: “Mulch is loose material that is used to cover the surface of the soil and can either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable.
“Common mulch ingredients include some of the most common materials for mulch are garden compost, bark and wood chippings and pebbles.”
Though all mulch is useful for improving growth, Steve noted that it could be ineffective if used at the wrong time of year.
He noted that generally, it is best placed in the middle or towards the end of spring when most planting takes place.
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Biodegradable mulch is the most popular and works by breaking down gradually to release nutrients into the soil. This should then be replaced once it has decomposed – but there’s no need to throw it away.
Nonbiodegradable mulch, on the other hand, is less popular and instead works to keep moisture in the soil and prevent weeds from growing through.
Regardless of the type used by gardeners, Steve explained that the pay-off is unmatched – particularly when it comes to bulbs that can be mulched right now.
He said: “Any new bulbs should be mulched in spring. It’s important that you ensure your mulch is 5cm thick or less, as although it will be harder for weeds to grow through the thicker mulch, it’s also harder for bulbs to sprout through heavy layers of mulch.
According to the gardening expert, 5cm is the “maximum thickness” required for “all your spring plants”.
He added: “Mulch greatly benefits new bulbs as it helps keep the moisture in and reduces the amount of watering you need to do.
“Any fruit trees/plants should also be mulched. This is because they need plenty of water at their root in order to grow and bloom, so using mulch to ensure that moisture is retained is a great way to ensure that they can do so.”
In most cases, spring is the best time for mulching as it is the busiest in terms of planting. And while it can be done a little later, there is one reason to avoid mulching in mid-summer.
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Steve said: “April and mid to late Spring is the perfect time to mulch as this is generally when you’ll be planting the majority of new bulbs and new plants. As well as this, this time of year offers the ideal soil for mulching as it is usually quite moist and easy to work with.
“Mulching is always beneficial to plants, but it’s seen as too late to mulch once your flowers or plants have bloomed and have completed their growing stage for the year”.
When it comes to sourcing the materials for mulch, it’s likely that there are plenty of leftovers lurking in the kitchen and compost heap.
The gardening expert explained: “Compost is a great material for mulch, as it consists of plenty of nutrients that can break down into the soil. If you’ve never composted before, it’s important to remember to only include biodegradable materials, and make sure there are no plastics at all in the compost. “
Leaves are another material that can be used in mulch as “leaf mould”. To make this, gather fallen leaves and keep them separate from other compost.
Once they’ve broken down, they can be used as mulch. Steve noted: “It’s really important to keep them separate from compost, as leaf mould is made by fungi, not the bacteria that are found in compost.”
Fresh horse manure should be avoided when choosing ingredients for mulch and instead, should be replaced with manure that is at least two years old to avoid damaging plants.
Used correctly, the gardening expert explained that the benefits of mulch include keeping the soil warm, protecting plants from extreme weather, adding more nutrients to the soil, and most importantly, “deters weeds from growing”.