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Home > Types of Gardening > Backyard Gardening > Mulches
MulchesMulch is spread over the soil surface to keep moisture in and weeds down. Mulch also helps keep the soil from getting over heated or from getting too cold.

Generally, mulches fall into two categories: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches include materials like bark, shredded leaves, composed products, pine needles, and shredded newspaper. Inorganic mulches include plastic, rock, and landscape fabric. Clear all weeds from a garden before mulching for best weed control.

Organic Mulches

The advantage of organic mulch over plastics and other non-organic types is that organic materials eventually break down and improve soil structure. Mulches are sometimes used in the fall over perennial plants to keep soil temperatures constant. The purpose is not necessarily to keep soil from freezing, but to keep it from an alternating freeze/thaw, freeze/thaw cycle that may heave plants out of the ground, damage roots, or allow plants to break dormancy during a thaw, exposing them to potential damage during a freeze. When using grass clippings as mulch, scatter them in thin layers allowing them to dry out between applications. Grass tends to clump together and develop mold and other micro-organisms. Spread in thin layers it quickly desiccates and new layers can be added to achieve the proper depth. Grass is not a great soil amendment because it is mostly water and deteriorates very rapidly.

Inorganic Mulches

Inorganic mulches, particularly black plastic and landscape fabrics are good for holding down weeds.

Clear plastic mulches have the specific benefit of warming the soil while holding moisture in. These clear plastics warm the soil more than black plastic. Many garden annuals grow and develop much faster in warmer soil. Planting crops through clear plastic aids in rapid growth and production.

Putting clear plastic over soil provides a greenhouse effect in the early part of the season allowing weeds to spring up under the plastic along with the desired plants. Lift the plastic and hoe or pull weeds while they are small. As the season progresses, the heat that builds up under the plastic will burn off weeds as they emerge. The tops of the plants above the plastic will not get overheated, while the roots beneath the plastic receive needed warmth.

Clear plastic is particularly effective in hastening the progress of melons and winter squash. Melons develop more sugar when they ripen in warm weather To apply plastic mulches, lay the plastic in place and dig a shallow trench along the edges allowing the edge of the plastic to drop down into the trench. Cover with soil to keep wind from getting under the edges of the plastic and lifting it. In windy areas, rocks or piles of soil can be placed on various spots on top of the plastic to help hold it down. Cut holes or make x-shaped slits where plants will be placed. Fold flaps on x-shaped slits underneath to prevent the flaps from falling on the emerging seedling and overheating it. Cut holes and slits only as big as needed for plant emergence and development. If using drip hose, turn the water on for a short time before planting so that you can see where emitters are and make holes in the plastic over the wet spots. Put soil over the edges of the holes to keep wind from getting in through the planting holes. Later in the season, as plants develop and spread the weight of the plant will keep the plastic in place.
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