The main advantage of mulch is regulating both moisture and temperature in the soil. It is also aesthetically pleasing. Here, with a piece of cardboard to kneel down on, mulch is carefully placed around the rhododendrons at the sheriff’s house. (Andrew May/For Peninsula Daily News)

The main advantage of mulch is regulating both moisture and temperature in the soil. It is also aesthetically pleasing. Here, with a piece of cardboard to kneel down on, mulch is carefully placed around the rhododendrons at the sheriff’s house. (Andrew May/For Peninsula Daily News)

A GROWING CONCERN: A good time to mulch things over

WITH THE ADVENT of March, many jobs and chores are beginning to grow faster than your lawn or weeds.

All too soon the dry weather of summer and our newly planted trees, bushes and shrubs will want moisture.

The ground will also become hot as the summer sun beats down upon it.

With that said, today we will conduct a quick course on mulch.

So let us review what we may know so far.

Mulch is really a mandatory material in the garden for a variety of important reasons.

Those include retention and conservation of soil moisture, reduction of soil heat loss, transfer of daylight heat to nighttime cold, reduction of stress on plants, a decrease in diseases and insects, and weed suppression.

All of these mean more flowers, growth or produce. And if the mulch is organic in nature, you will see a dramatic increase in soil fertility with a significant decrease in need for supplementary fertilizers.

You should have also learned last week that, if applied properly, mulching will save you lots of money and time, while greatly increasing your plants survivability rate.

With that said, let us dive into preferred mulches, along with the when, what and where of mulches.

But first, a question. What is the difference between mulch and compost?

That is a great question and one that causes much confusion amongst gardeners.

Different properties

Compost is always organic in nature, and to be compost, it must be significantly decayed.

The reason it must be decayed is that all composts are either a single or a mixture of broken down organic matter added to the soil for the specific reason of adding readily available nutrient for the plants to use. In other words, compost is fertilizer.

That is its raison d’etre, as opposed to mulch, which can either be organic or not, and is applied topically for the reasons previously mentioned.

All organic mulches will break down and become compost, and if compost is added to the soil surface in sufficient quantity, can be a mulch.

However, it is usually a poor mulch because of how much moisture it retains and its inherent nature to be mucky.

In most of my garden work, I first till compost into the soil as an additive, then plant, then mulch.

But are some mulches better than others? How and when do I apply mulch and at what depth?

First and foremost, you must determine where you are mulching and around what plants.

If I was mulching on a severe slope, or say around a driveway or sidewalk, I would not want to use a “fine grade” or nugget-type of mulch because gravity would slough it off the hillside, and the wind or rain would turn my mulch into a mess on my pavement.

I would prefer instead a shredded or course grade of mulch that would bind upon itself and stay in place.

However, if I was mulching blueberries or raspberries, a sawdust mulch would be catastrophic because of its acidic nature.

In this situation, a leaf mold or well-rotted mulch would be the ticket.

In a flower bed, I may want to use a fine-grade or rescreened mulch because it’s smaller texture would look aesthetically pleasing and not be so coarse as to disrupt the growth of impatiens or lobelia.

If I had large landscape trees, berms or foundation plantings, a heavier layer of 6- to 12-inches of mulch would be perfect because of the size of plants and their longevity.

This super thick layer will break down into those life-giving hummus acids that will improve soil fertility for years to come.

That thickness, however, would be the death knell to perennial beds or ground cover areas.

A rock mulch would be the perfect solution for raising the soil temperatures for marginal plants such as peaches, but would horribly compact the ground in a vegetable garden.

Moving it in

As for hauling in mulch, you can hire it out — a young person is worth his or her weight in Bengay.

Boom trucks now have conveyors and small tractors can move mountains of mulch, but buckets and wheelbarrows move mountains as well — just more slowly.

So please, now is the time to lock in the winter rains and shield from the cold.

Anytime of year, however, is the time to mulch if you have just planted something.

Mulching is a wonderful gift to your garden, so please mulch now while the ground is moist.

And please … stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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