Mulch is so important to your garden plants. It helps regulate soil temperature, keeping soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It helps retain moisture, especially during times of drought. Mulch can also help prevent weed and insect problems and provide a potential source of nutrients for your vegetables and flowers. And, mulch makes your garden look nice and neat.
Commercial mulch is made mostly of shredded bark, often fir, pine or cedar. Cheaper brands might use garbage wood, however, such as ground up wood pallets, and some of the popular types even have added dyes to make them appear red, black or yellow. Bottom line is, with store bought products, you never know what you’re truly getting and whether it is harmful to your soil or plants.
But did you know that you can use readily available materials, materials you find in your own backyard, for mulching?
Pine needles are attractive and very useful, especially for mulching around acid loving flowers, shrubs and vegetables. Pine needles decompose slowly and usually remain in place once they’re distributed.
Leaves are something practically everyone has in their yards, but they are usually raked up and disposed of in the fall or spring. Try something different this year: Keep the leaves in your yard to use as a mulch around your plants. Leaves are not as acidic as you might think, according to the experts, and provide a wealth of nutrients.
Grass clippings are a wonderful mulch, providing an ample amount of much needed nitrogen, which helps plants grow, reproduce and maintain a healthy green color. They can be collected with a lawn mower attachment, or raked up and distributed throughout the garden.
Compost made from kitchen vegetable scraps and other ingredients can be spread throughout the garden to provide food and moisture retention. It’s best to screen it, though, to eliminate seeds and other unwanted waste products first.
Newspaper acts like a blanket over the garden soil, sealing in moisture and blocking out light so weeds don’t even stand a chance. Some use newspaper to “sheet mulch,” a technique where the newspaper is spread over the soil and then another material such as pine needles or leaves or grass clippings is spread on top. This is something I am just trying out in my own garden and it seems to be working very well.
Other material, such as stone, shell, cocoa shell, corn husks, wood chips, hay, and seaweed can also be used as an effective mulch, but might not be as readily available to some gardeners as others.
Related: Seaweed: Nature’s Best Fertilizer
Further reading: Cornell University Gardening Resources