If we look at a healthy natural environment that hasn’t been damaged or subjected to human disturbance, we find that nature goes to some effort to protect the soil, which is not ‘dirt’, but a complex living ecosystem, known as the soil-food web. Layers of natural materials are laid down on the ground over time, creating rich, dark, health soil below, and healthy plants within it!
We can follow natures example by laying down 5-10cm (2-4″) of mulch onto our garden beds in late spring, after the soil has warmed up, and plants have resumed growing.
Here are seven good reasons to mulch your garden, as using mulch:
- Protects bare soil, so weeds don’t have to grow there in order to do that job! Cover the soil with mulch, or groundcover plants that act as a living mulch, otherwise nature will fill it with some hardy pioneer plants whose seeds are blowing in the wind.
- Prevents soil erosion and compaction by rainfall. Slowly but surely, rain will wash away your soil or compact it over time.
- Breaks down to feed the soil, adding organic matter to improve soil structure. Organic matter serves as food for beneficial soil organisms, which slowly release the nutrients to plants. Straw mulches which are more suitable for vegetable garden beds break down quickly, woody mulches more slowly.
- Creates a natural habitat for beneficial soil dwelling predatory organisms that eat pests, such as centipedes and predatory mites.
- Helps retain soil moisture and reduces evaporative water losses from soil surface, reducing plants drought-stress and keeping soil-food web microorganisms alive!
- Reduces soil temperatures in summer, preventing the soil from over-heating. All living things, including plants and soil organisms, function best at specific temperatures, and most don’t like it too hot.
- Reduces the spread of fungal disease spores which spread from water splashing from the soil surface onto plants. Woody mulches also promote the growth of beneficial fungi, which counteract the ones that cause plant diseases.
For more information on garden mulches, see the following articles: