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Mulching

Learning from nature

Sustainable living and water wise gardening are fast becoming household words. South Africa is a water-scarce country and water is a precious and scarce resource. With our growing population and strong urban development, we need to get the most out of every drop in order for everyone to have enough water.

An easy way towards this is to steal one of nature’s bright ideas and MULCH. Think of a forest floor with a thick blanket made up of fallen leaves, moss, pine needles, pieces of bark and other organic materials. This organic mulch decomposes slowly over time and so also acts as compost…

THE BENEFITS OF MULCHING

A well mulched garden is a healthy garden. One of the most important benefits of mulching is the reduced evaporation of moisture from the soil.  This increases available water for plants which means less irrigation, saving water and energy.

If the mulch itself is weed free, it suppresses weed growth between plants and paving, saving time spent on weeding.

As organic mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil, improves the structure of the soil and prevents loss of topsoil.

Mulch protects the soil from temperature extremes and keeps plants’ roots cool in summer and snug in winter.

Mulch will prevent compacting of the soil, as well us run-off and erosion.

Earthworm populations flourish in a well mulched garden.  These busy little workers aid in breaking down organic matter, aerating the soil and improving drainage.

Little creatures, like lizards and frogs, find a home in soft mulch.  They in turn eat and control pests in the garden.

Various options for mulching are available at Lifestyle Home Garden – most of it conveniently packaged and ready-to-use.

BARK CHIPS AND NUGGETS

This is excellent mulch that offers good insulation and moisture retention but is less effective for weed control.  A layer of newspaper under larger bark chips will assist with weed control and will decompose as well.  An effective way to recycle last Sunday’s news!  Use smaller chips in containers and around smaller plants. Decomposition is relatively slow and it should be replaced every 2-4 years.

MACADAMIA NUT SHELLS

Very attractive and cost effective mulch that decomposes slowly and therefore needn’t be replaced as often.  The nut shells allow very good water penetration and moisture retention.  They can get slippery, however, and should not be used on pathways.

GREEN GROUNDCOVERS

A wide range of water wise groundcovers are available for sun and shade.  Once established, they are very attractive in beds and between paving.  They provide very good water penetration and moisture retention. Vigorous growers need to be controlled.

PEBBLES AND GRAVEL

Considered to be permanent mulch, pebbles and gravel lend an attractive, contemporary look to the garden. Keep in mind that dark stone retains heat, while light stone reflects it.  Water penetration is excellent, while moisture retention and weed control is average. The ground beneath pebbles can get quite hot, so use around plants that like hot, sunny positions like succulents and other water wise plants. Lay horticultural fabric on the soil surface underneath the pebbles and gravel. This will allow water penetration, but prevent most weeds from coming through and it will keep the pebbles clean.

PEACH PIPS

A very attractive use for an abundant natural resource.

Peach pips provide good insulation, weed control and water retention and are very cost effective.

WOOD MULCH

This mulch contains bark and pieces of wood in different sizes. Woodchip mulch is a good all round cover with good water penetration and effective weed control.  The cost is moderate and decomposition relatively slow.

COMPOST

Compost serves as excellent feeding mulch as it adds nutrients to the soil. It is very good for moisture retention and weed control, but needs to be replaced on a yearly basis. Compost is a very economical form of mulch and can be made in you own backyard.

Garden trimmings, straw, leaves and grass cuttings can all be used as mulch, provided it is disease and weed free. Grass cuttings and leaves should be mixed with other material and sprinkled loosely in a 3cm layer to prevent it from sticking together in thick lumps.

MULCHING TIPS

When mulching, take care not to apply too thick a layer (about 7 – 10cm thick is recommended) or the mulch will absorb water in itself and prevent it from reaching the soil. This can result in plants growing roots into the mulch layer instead of the soil. The finer the material of your choice, the thinner the layer needs to be.

Always remove all weeds from the beds and water thoroughly before applying your mulch layer.

Organic mulches decompose over time and a fresh layer can simply be added on top of the old, provided the layer is not too thick.

Apply mulch evenly and avoid unsightly heaps around the stems of shrubs, trees and small plants. This is an invitation to a host of pests and diseases and can cause rotting at the base of the stem.

Take a leaf out of nature’s book, give something back and mulch, mulch, mulch.

We can’t afford not to.

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