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Reduce Weeds and Insulate Soil in Ocean County: Are You Using Mulch Correctly?

Alborn Supply Of Ocean County Shares This Article On How How To Get The Most Out Of Your Mulch

As you know, I love to garden, but I don't like to work needlessly. If I can find a technique that saves me time, effort and money, well, I'm there.

And you can't find a better time- and effort-saving option than mulches. A mulch is a material, usually organic but sometimes inorganic, that we use to cover the soil surface around plants.

Organic mulches, such as leaves, pine straw, processed bark, processed wood, dry grass clippings, newspaper and other organic stuff, are all derived from once living materials. They are popular for their ease of use, attractive appearance (except for newspaper) and because, as they decompose, they add beneficial nutrients and organic matter to the soil. They are the most popular mulches.

Inorganic mulches are derived from nonliving sources and include plastic sheeting, landscape fabric or weed barriers, stone chips, gravel or even recycled tires. Some of these mulches are not very attractive and are only suitable in more utilitarian situations. For instance, plastic is used in growing vegetables. In more decorative areas, unattractive inorganic mulches, such as landscape fabric, may be covered with a layer of organic mulch for appearance.

Many people think the primary role of mulches is to look good -- and they do improve the appearance of the landscape. But the first and foremost reason to use mulches is to control weeds that grow in garden beds virtually year round.

Every time weeds are removed from a bed, weed seeds in the soil germinate, creating the problem all over again. Mulches work to stop this by blocking light from reaching the soil surface. Most weed seeds need light to germinate as this indicates when they are close enough to the surface to sprout. When covered over with mulch, they think they are still deep in the soil and will not germinate.

To create this barrier, organic mulches have to be applied thick enough to do the job. Too often, gardeners spread out mulch as thin as possible just to cover the soil. This will be much less effective in preventing weeds.

The appropriate depth of mulch varies with the situation. Apply organic mulches about 2 inches thick for best weed control in flower and vegetable beds. Around newly planted bedding or vegetable transplants, you may need to pull the mulch back slightly so that it does not overwhelm the plants. Around established shrubs you can add mulch about 3 inches deep.

When mulching under trees, you can apply mulch 4 to 6 inches deep.

Organic mulches are not as effective in controlling persistent perennial weeds that grow from bulbs or rhizomes, such as nutsedge (nut grass, coco grass), dollarweed, oxalis, bermudagrass, torpedograss and others. But they can help.

Another important function of mulches is that they conserve moisture in the soil. By slowing down evaporation from the soil surface, mulches keep beds from drying out so quickly. This is especially important in hot, dry weather. Your plants receive a more even supply of moisture, and you save money on your water bill.

Organic mulches also insulate the soil and moderate soil temperatures -- keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer -- which helps the roots. Mulches can even reduce injury to whatever part of the plant they cover from freezing temperatures in winter.

If you are not utilizing mulches in you gardening efforts, I strongly recommend you give them a try. You'll be amazed at how much work they save in weeding and how nice they can make a garden look.

If you are mulching, remember to apply mulches thick enough to control weeds and use them in beds throughout your landscape.

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