Every once a while each gardener will have to add a protective layer of material around the plant's edges, if not to protect them from adverse weather conditions to at least improve the garden soil.
Mulching helps protect your soil from environmental factors like rain, wind, sun and human agricultural practices which cause compaction, erosion and nutrient loss.
Whether you grow fruits, veggies, flowers or perennials, mulching is an essential way of protecting and improving your soil. Without mulch, the soil surface is exposed to erosion, dehydration, and structure loss.
Typical mulch materials range from leaves to straw to living mulches such as wildflowers and clover.
Mulching is done depending on the kind of plants in the bed and what you are trying to accomplish. Therefore, vegetable garden mulching will differ from mulching around perennials and an entirely different strategy can be used to build your soil.
However, while mulching is essential more is not necessarily better. Below are instances when lesser mulching is better.
10 Times When Lesser Mulching is Best
When The is Need to Keep Mulching Below The Crown and Away From The Stem
Covering the crown-where shoots and roots meet- can be lethal to many plants, and a bad idea generally. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the base of your plants.
Mulching directly in contact with stems will cause excess moisture retention around the plant's bases which encourage the development of diseases and rotting.
Mulch volcanoes is a term referring to the excessive use of mulch around the plant base, its considered a rookie mulching mistake, which you will quickly learn kills your plants rather than develop them
In some places more mulch is better but always leave little space between mulch and plant stem or trunk. 12 inches or more of mulch is not a problem in dry climates. In more humid, wet environs, you will need to adjust the amount at different times of year to account for how much moisture is in the soil and around the plants.
If The Mulch Used Breakdown Slowly
Every type of mulch has strengths and weaknesses, making it suitable for some situations and not others.
The type and condition of your mulch will play a large role. Raw wood chips, for example, decrease fertility in the shallow soil until they are invaded by soil microorganisms and begin to break down. The well-composted and fairly fine material will quickly add to soil fertility.
Compost mulch is quick to break down, making it a great choice for flower and veggie beds, whereas straw is easy to apply but takes a season or more to fully break down.
When the mulch you use breakdown slowly its best to use lesser amount especially on vegetable and flower gardens. Tree and shrubs can handle deeper mulches even when the breakdown process is slow but make sure to leave enough space between the mulching and trees stems.
When Mulching Inhibits Water Absorption
It can be difficult to gauge water needs with a thick layer of mulch unless your plants start to wilt which is not a good way to time your watering.
Too deep of a mulch layer, especially if not sufficiently broken down, can create a not-wettable stratum at the soil line. This can reduce the ability of water to penetrate, and stress your plants.
Your mulching, depending on the plant should ideally be about 50 mm high, otherwise, the rain or any other overhead water will fail to penetrate into the soil.
The 50mm should be enough to stop most of the evaporation, keep the roots cool and the weeds to a minimum. And, when fertilizing, rake the stuff into the mulch as much as you can, and then water well.
More Mulch Can Equally Hold Excess Water
Deep unbroken mulch forms non-wettable stratum while big amounts of broken mulch hold excess water.
Although the main function of mulching it to keep the soil around the plant moist, when mulch is too high or mounded around the base of the plant it can retain too much moisture which will slowly rot the plant's roots, bark and cambium.
Genrally keep mulch less than three inches deep and should not be applied directly against the tree trunk.
To Improve Soil Aeration
You want the soil to be able to continue the gas exchange with the atmosphere. The depth of your mulch can influence that. Generally speaking cooler, moist climates don’t need as thick of a mulch layer as hot, dry climates.
Mulch increases soil aeration in clay soils and water retention in sandy soil. With near perfect soil mulch that should ideally be used in sandy soil will be a little too thick hence hold to much water and inhibit proper aeration.
Suffocation of tree roots is the most common cause of tree and shrub death from over-mulching. Repeated applications can contribute to a waterlogged soil zone by slowing soil water loss via evaporation. With water occupying most soil pore space, air content is minimal and diffusion of oxygen is essentially blocked.
When You need Soil to Be less Acidic
The soil pH, or acidity level, may be changed by the continuous use of the same type of mulch. In particular, pine bark mulch is quite acidic–pH of 3.5-4.5–and can cause the soil to become acid with constant use year after year.
Some plants like blueberries will do fine in acidic soil but with plants that prefer alkaline or mildly acidic soil repeated deep mulching is undesirable.
Only use a deep amount of pine bark mulch when you want to improve your garden soil acidity. Apply at least an inch of the mulch to the soil around the plant.
Oak leaves mulch also improve soil acidity although the mulch will initially start off been alkaline.
The danger of having too much acidity is the lack of some key nutrients needed in soil while others minerals like Iron and Zinc tend to be overly available.These oversupply result in micronutrients toxicity which mimics wilt attack on plants.
Toxic level specific nutrients in soil affect general plant's health and make them susceptible to disease and pest insect attacks.
Higher Mounds is a Sanctuary for Rodents and Other Pests
High mulch mound especially next to trunks provide cover for chewing rodents such as mice and meadow voles. These rodents live under the warm mulch in the winter and chew on the nutritious inner bark. This often goes unnoticed until the following spring when they start showing the effects. If the trunk is girdled-greater than 50% chewed around the trunk-there is little that can be done to save the plant except doing bridge grafting. Read More
Deeper wetter mulch makes a perfect place for bacteria and fungus to grow, which slowly creep into the plant system.
Which Plants Grown in Your Mulched Garden
Learning what mulching to use with the type of crops in your garden goes a long way towards the decision of how much or how less to apply.
Trees and shrubs are hardy and can easily take deeper, slow breaking mulch as long as you leave enough space around the bark and stems. However, this is not the case with vegetables and flowers.
Mulching veggie beds can increase porosity, minimize weeds, enhance soil retention, warm soil temperatures and add slow release nutrients but this depends a lot on the mulch used. The mulch used also depends on the intentions, vegetables like carrots, cucumber,, and dill will do well n slightly acidic soil and less application of pine bark mulch should be fine.
When the intention is to increase the value of the soil mulch that decomposes quickly should be the go-to choice. Likewise, use organic mulch to improve soil health and inorganic mulch when you don't want the mulch to mix with the soil.
Work With Lesser Mulch in Wet Weather
With heavy rains your soil will have a lot of moisture. Adding very deep mulch will hold more water around the plant and in the soil. Too much moisture, especially in the root, inhibits aeration- Oxygen intake by plants through root- and equally, develop root rot.
For the small bushes and trees too much water in the mulch will aid bark and stems rot.
Summer is definitely the hotter periods but the air is less dry and the temperature transitions is a less than in Autumn. Lay down a good, thick layer of mulch to keep your plants healthy in the fall and survive the winter.
Around March- After Winter- is the best time to touch up your mulch and replace the older mulch. However, this period is not particularly characterized by bigger mounds, the plants are mostly newly planted or fairly small and hence need a lot more space to develop. In fact, this is around the same period you will be preparing you warm weather crop for planting.
After spring you will want to add more mulch especially if you live in regions with very hot and dry summers.
Generally first mulch should be applied in late spring or early out Autumn when the soil is moist and warm, in shallow amounts. When the weather gets harsher like in winter and summer use deeper mulch which is specific to the need.