Thanks for your many questions on mulching the garden – you have been asking what to use and, most importantly, what is safe to use out there.
To me, mulch is so important in the summer months as it helps retain the moisture in the soil and keep plant roots from drying out, enabling them to go deeper into the soil to get their moisture. The question these days is what mulch is safe to use, with the heavy use of pesticides on crops.
I can personally recommend the following four sources of mulch:
Leaf mulch is a layer of either shredded leaves or leaves that have been collected from a previous season and allowed to partly break down. These will enrich your soil in many ways.
Seagrass – If you are lucky, like me, and live near a beach that dumps this on your shores, it is a fantastic free source of mulch. I’m not sure where the name seagrass came from, but it looks very much like fresh cut grass clippings in appearance. Seagrass has hardly any nitrogen content but is full of minerals and especially high in boron, which is great for olive trees.
Organic straw seems to be a hard mulch to get hold of these days, so when it is available I buy 5 or 6 bales, which will last me the season. Organic straw can be expensive however, if you compare it to the bags of pea straw available in the shops, it is actually extremely good value as the quantity of a bale is 10 times more than a bag of pea straw.
Home grown beans or peas – I usually let all these plants go to seed and die off in my garden and then I break down all the stems etc. and mulch around my plants.
Why should I bother to mulch?
Mulch is such an important part of gardening as it protects the soil from drying out; it keeps the roots of your plants cool in the hot summer months and protects them from soil splashes when the rain is heavy. It also keeps the weeds down – bonuses all round!
Top tip: One thing to remember is not to mulch right up to the stem. It is advisable to leave a space around the stem of each plant – otherwise you can suffocate the air flow and create a great environment for breeding pest and disease. This is also a great space to water your plants directly in the early hours of the morning.
Remember your fruit trees too – mulch can protect them from the dreaded weed-eater nicking the trunk and also to keep their roots cool, especially surface feeder roots like lemons and citrus trees.
My advice when buying mulch would be to only buy organic. Ask yourself what the pea straw has likely been sprayed with, considering commercial peas are prone to a lot of diseases. Fungacides are used, the dreaded Roundup is used between the rows and they are probably grown from chemically treated seed!!
Your garden deserves better and so do you!
There is so much carbon around so collect it up – leaves, seagrass and dried grass are great around the plants and will help keep the soil cool.
Happy Summer Solstice and happy gardening!