Mulch your plants to save moisture

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young shrubs surrounded by woodchip mulch

A thick layer of mulch around plants will save you a lot of work in your garden

Water is right up there in the gardener’s top ten list of essentials, along with good soil, sunshine and a strong back.

You can save a lot of time and money by mulching your plants to help conserve water in the soil.

What is mulching?

Mulching is covering the surface of the soil with material that will do these 3 things

  • Suppress weeds
  • Allow rainwater to penetrate the soil reduce the amount lost through evaporation
  • Reduce the amount lost through evaporation

If you choose your mulching materials carefully they will also

  • Improve the soil
  • Look attractive
  • Make the plants look attractive too

What materials are good for mulching?

I have heard gardeners talk about spreading several sheets of newspaper on the ground; using old carpets; buying rolls of weed control fabric; even using old cotton towels. But my personal favourites for mulching are

  • Homemade compost
  • Peat-free compost from the garden centre
  • Well-rotted farmyard manure – IF I can find it
  • Woodchip mulch
  • Gravel, slate or stones

My homemade compost is in short supply – I tend to use it in the polytunnel around my tomato plants then dig it in to the soil at the end of the season.

double compost bin in garden

No matter how I try, I can't seem to make as much compost as my garden wants me to

Peat-free compost from the garden centre is a bit costly for using too much of it.  It does work well for improving the soil and retaining moisture in the veg patch though.  A good alternative is the black organic loam available from soilonline.  It doesn’t supress weeds brilliantly, but I like to add a thick layer of the soil between rows and hoe them fairly regularly anyway.  If I do that every week, I only need to disturb the top cm or so of soil so I don’t lose lots of moisture.

Manure is awesome BUT be wary of it.  I think the herbicide in question has been banned now, but farmers could once use a herbicide to kill weeds in their pastures.  Nobody realised it when it was first released, but this herbicide could pass through the animals’ digestive systems unchanged.  It didn’t hurt the animals at all, but the manure they produced was toxic to broad-leaved plants.  If you’re using manure, test it first – especially if it’s more than 3 years old. 

Woodchip mulch.  My absolute favourite for beds and borders.  I put a layer around 10cm thick around all of my perennial plants.  It looks good AND lasts 2-3 years.  I also use it to make paths between my raised beds.  Much cheaper than paving, drains well, and if I decide to rip up the veg beds and return that area to lawn, it’ll just rotovate into the soil.  Simple!

Gravel, slate and stones.  They last forever and you can get some pretty ones too.  Great in the alpine beds and on top of pots and planters.

How deep does mulch need to be?

The deeper it is, the better it will keep in moisture and suppress weeds.  10 cm is a good depth to work with, especially around trees and shrubs.  For smaller plants and for pots, 5cm is more practical.

Don’t much right up to the bottom of the stem, leave a bit of a gap otherwise the plant will get confused.

Where to buy garden mulch

Mulch is bulky and it’s heavy.  Far easier to have it delivered to within barrowing distance of where you want to use it.

Soilonline supplies woodchip mulch and organic soil that make marvellous mulch.  Both are from sustainable sources.

Order woodchip mulch online here

Order mulching soil here


More information

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