Mulching Mania

Or should that be Manic Mulching or Maniac Mulcher?

Until I got my allotment I hadn’t heard of mulching. The idea is that you put down a layer around the plants so that the soil can retain moisture, and at the same time suppress weeds, add nutrients back into the soil and help maintain the good structure of soil and in may case, on heavy clay, help create a good soil structure. Weeds are a major source of competition for nutrients with fruit and veg so suppressing them, before they even grow has to be of benefit. Mulching is said to copy nature in that it mimics leaf cover in woods and forests. So the aim is to replicate nature.

So what, when and how to mulch

  • Mulch with any organic material, by that I mean material that will break down easily and naturally
  • Mulch with straw, well rotted manure, grass clippings, leaf mold, shredded paper, cardboard, newspaper, even plant material like rhubarb leaves (but I put those in my compost bin to break down)
  • In-organic material like purpose made weed suppressant / membranes work wonders, for the last few years I’ve planted squash through them, and have rarely needed to water the plants once they are established.
  • I expected straw and shredded paper to instantly blow away, off the soil and generally spread itself around my plot and that of my neighbours. By some weird force of physics, it doesn’t.
  • Preferably mulch when the soil is wet, after rain
  • If it hasn’t rained, I still mulch as anything is better than bare soil
  • What to mulch – think what is thirsty. So mulch potatoes (as in earthing up), beans, peas, courgettes, summer and winter squash, corn, spinach and chard, greens like broccoli and cabbage, fruit bushes etc
  • What not to mulch – not much really, I don’t bother with carrots,or lettuce as I plant them densely, but that’s about it
  • Drawbacks to mulching – it probably provides a nice damp cozy place for slugs and snails to hide, if you think about aesthetics, then it probably doesn’t look great to have paper scattered about the garden.

This time of year, when I’m busy planting, I have to remind myself to get busy and mulch, it’s no use nurturing those seeds and seedlings if I then ignore their needs in later life!

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