Much ado about mulch

Finished planting the garden? It is time to put down a good layer of mulch.

Why use mulch? Mulches are attractive, conserve moisture, control fluctuations in root and help to inhibit weed growth. Mulch also helps to control disease in plants, such as tomatoes, by preventing fungal spores in the soil from reaching leaves by splashing rains or irrigation.

Mulch plants soon after planting for best results. Apply mulch about three to four inches deep over moist soil. If laid over dry soil, mulch can act like a sponge and remove moisture from the soil. Be sure to water thoroughly after applying a mulch to prevent this from happening. Keep mulch about an inch away from plant stems, to help prevent rot, pests or disease.

Mulching materials such as wood chips and bark are available for purchase. A more economical option may be to visit your local tree disposal site for wood chips to use as mulch. You may need to sift through to remove larger pieces, but by doing so, you are helping to recycle and also saving money as well.

Other effective mulches for the garden include pieces of old carpeting, shredded office paper or four or five layers of newspaper. Be sure to water these well after applying to prevent them from blowing away.

Grass clippings can also be used as mulch if allowed to dry well before use. Avoid clippings that may include weed seed, and never use clippings from a lawn that has been treated with an herbicide.

An unfortunate drawback to using a plastic mulch or landscape fabric is that plastic does not break down to add organic matter which improves the soil. Plastic also needs to be removed from the garden site each year.

Did you know? Mulching around newly planted trees and shrubs can prevent “mower blight” – mechanical damage from lawn mowers and weed trimmers, which can girdle bark and cause plant death.

For further information on using mulch or other gardening questions, contact Yvonne McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu