Rural Missouri - March 2013 - (Page 30)

ALL ABOUT Protect and improve your garden with a layer of organic nutrients A by Kris Wetherbee re you looking for a simple, one-step process to keep weeds out of the garden, improve soil texture, increase beneficial critters, fertilize your plants, conserve soil moisture, moderate soil temperature and prevent soil compaction and erosion? Mulch is the answer! Covering the ground with a blanket of mulch is one of the easiest and quickest ways to protect and enrich the beauty and health of your garden plants and overall landscape. In fact, it can make the difference between a plant that thrives or one that dies. Most any type of organic or inorganic material that you spread or lay on top of the soil is referred to as mulch. Examples of organic materials include compost, aged manure, straw, shredded leaves, grass clippings, bark chips, nut hulls and pine needles. As these materials decompose, they improve the condition and fertility of the soil. Inorganic materials — such as plastic, landscape fabric and small rocks — perform similar functions but do not add organic material to the soil and can be difficult to remove. As such, they are best reserved for more permanent plantings in good soil. The makings of a good mulch While there is no perfect mulch for every situation, an ideal mulch allows water and air into the soil, resists compaction, is odor free, attractive and stays where you put it. Your decision about which mulch to use depends mostly on its availability, ease of application and aesthetic appearance. Rocks and 100-pound straw bales are heavy to move; black plastic tears and shreds; and straw may not beautify your perennial bed. Yet, in the right setting, each of these makes excellent mulch. Garden centers, farm supply stores and others sell a variety of mulching products. Straw (be sure to use straw that was cut before going to seed), wood chips, aged sawdust and even crushed nut hulls are popular commercial mulches. But you need not buy mulch. Shredded leaves, pine needles, compost, tree trimmings or unsprayed grass clippings can all make excellent mulch. Right mulch, right time, right place The effectiveness of any mulch depends on when you use it and where you put it. In general, applying mulch in late winter or early spring will prevent most weed seeds from germinating. Mulch applied in late spring to early summer will help keep the soil cool and conserve moisture during the hot days of summer. Late fall applications keep soil temperatures 30 MULCH photos by Rick Wetherbee Above left: Place mulch by hand to protect new plantings, and keep a “mulch-free zone” around plants, trees and shrubs — 1 to 2 inches around plants, 4 to 8 inches around shrubs and 12 to 36 inches around trees. Above: Mulch enriches the beauty and health of your garden plants and overall landscape, as seen with this path of bark mulch through an herb garden. warmer through winter, protecting roses, evergreens, trees, shrubs and any bare ground. Keep in mind that organic mulch applied in any season ultimately adds nutrients to soil, thereby feeding plants. In the vegetable garden, plastic mulch helps prevent weeds and retain soil moisture. A black or colored plastic mulch also raises soil temperature for heat-seeking fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and eggplants. However, this type of mulch is typically not permeable to water or air, and it can crack or tear easily. Landscape fabric lets water and air flow through while still preventing weeds. This makes it ideal around trees, shrubs and other permanent plantings, as well as in aisles between beds or on paths. The durable fabric often is used as an underlayment or as a base mulch, then topped with a thin layer of a more attractive mulch, such as wood chips. The two together will provide more protection against weeds than either alone. How to apply mulch Whether you rake it, dump it or spread it with your hands, the right way to apply mulch will depend on the area and the plants you’re mulching. On paths and around trees or shrubs, you can spread it with a rake. But in smaller vegetable or flower beds with established plantings, you’ll be less WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP likely to damage existing plants if you spread the mulch with your hands. Keep a “mulch-free zone” around plants, trees and shrubs — 1 to 2 inches around plants, 4 to 8 inches around shrubs and 12 to 36 inches around large established trees. Also, do not pile mulch against trunks. The finer and denser the mulch, the less you need to apply. Maintain a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer for fine-textured materials such as sawdust, shredded leaves and compost. Keep a 4- to 5-inchthick layer for coarse-textured materials such as wood chips and straw. Organic mulch will eventually break down and settle — some decompose faster than others — so you’ll need to apply additional mulch to keep it at the right depth. No matter how, why, when or where, the benefits of mulching go beyond the soil and plants. Organic mulch also provides food, shelter and hibernating sites for birds, butterflies and caterpillars. A mulched landscape also is more attractive and provides a unifying effect to the overall scenery. It’s amazing how a one-step process can be so simple yet so significant to a beneficial, beautiful and thriving landscape. Kris Wetherbee is a freelance writer and author from Oregon who specializes in the areas of gardening, food and outdoor living. For more tips on gardening, visit her website, http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2013

Rural Missouri - March 2013
Table of Contents
Musings in mud
The lure of tying flies
Out of the Way Eats
Living history
Queens of the court
Homegrown music
Hearth and Home
All about mulch
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - March 2013