Mulching 101

Weeds. We all have them. They creep out of every crevice and poke out of every space. For gardeners, it is no laughing matter!
Most people claim they have a deep hatred for weeds, which are really just plants growing where we don’t want them to.
Here’s a different thought on blasting those critters with weed killer.
One of the first steps any gardener needs to take to reduce weeds in their garden is to utilize mulch.
Mulch?
Mulching will help prevent certain plants (weeds) from growing in your garden and can also be a fantastic soil builder, adding nutrients over time and keeping the ground layer soft and moist.
Mulches are made up of multiple different types of materials, some of the most common:
• Pine needle and leaf mulches
• Hay or straw mulches
• Wood chips
• Black plastic sheets
• Newspaper and cardboard
Want less weeds? Then get familiar with the above types of mulches, pick one and let’s get going.
Everyone has a favorite, it’s just a matter of which one is easiest for you to work with, and is it readily available.
Leaves are extremely popular because they are FREE and almost everyone has leaves in their yard (or their neighbors).
I spent last fall collecting and mowing over leaves from both my yard and my neighbors yard (he was thrilled), for my garden mulching.
That is the best way to use leaves as mulch. Drive over them with the lawn mower or leaf shredder.
Leaves are great mulches because they will decompose quickly and are porous, allowing for nutrients to be delivered for optimal plant health.
Shredded leaves are best, but if you can’t shred them, you can use them whole, too.
You will need about 2”-3” of leaves to lay down as your weed barrier. This will make sure to cut down on the weeds, even though you may have to pick a few strays now and then.
To take weed barriers a step further is to lay down cardboard or paper bags and then layer the leaves on top. You could even add a layer of compost above the cardboard, then put on the leaves for the most nutrient depositing power.
This is called sheet mulching or lasagne gardening, and it is a much heavier hitter against weeds than just leaves alone.
If you do choose to use cardboard, make sure to remove all the tape and plastic, as well as trying to shoot for ink-free cardboard when you can.
Same goes for paper bags.
Over time, as the sheet mulch begins to break down, plants and weeds will grow through, but it will still be a great week block for at least one full season.
When placing the leaves and cardboard or paper bags, be sure to use just leaves around the base of your plants to make sure you don’t choke out air and water.
Your garden and flower beds will thank you for the extra loving care, and reward you with bountiful harvest and blooms!
Another successful way to mulch is to utilize a “green manure” or “living mulch”, such as clover, alfalfa and vetch.
These living mulches would be planting one kind of plant listed above around your already established vegetables to prevent weeds from growing.
These plants are in the legume family, which are nitrogen blasters for improving soil quality.
For example, around the time that your main crops or veggies ar established, sprinkle some legume seeds around the soil surrounding the established veggie and mix them in shallowly with your fingers.
Those will soon sprout, making a nice green barrier underneath your plants. They are rooted shallow, so they won’t compete with your vegetables.
Then, at harvest time, you will have a cover crop all ready for the winter. In the spring, you will want to till in the cover crop approximately four to six weeks before planting to give them enough time to break down.
Commonly, people use black plastic sheets for mulching because that is what they sell at the store. But plastic sheeting doesn’t provide the beneficial nutrients that organic and paper mulches do. Consider the pros and cons before using plastic. Thick (4”) layers of newspaper will give a much better result and work just as well.
Happy gardening and mulching this spring / summer! When in doubt, ask a knowledgeable gardener or do some Google research online.

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