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. Mulch enables the roots to go deeper into the soil to get their moisture. The question these days is what mulch is safe to use, due to the heavy use of pesticides on crops.
I can personally recommend the following four sources of mulch, which I regularly use with great success:
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, so it makes for a great option.
Seagrass is a fantastic free source of mulch if you are lucky, like me, and live near a beach that dumps this on your shores. I’m not sure where the name seagrass came from, but it looks very much like fresh cut grass clippings. It has hardly any nitrogen content but is packed full of minerals and is 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 to last me the season. Organic straw can be expensive but 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 can be used as another alternative source of mulch. I usually let these plants go to seed and die off in my garden before breaking down all the stems and mulch around my plants.
Why should I bother to mulch?
Mulch is such an important part of your gardening armoury, 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 around!
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 ripe environment for breeding pest and disease. This gap also creates a great space to water your plants directly in the early hours of the morning. Always water at the base!
Remember your fruit trees too – mulch can both protect them from the dreaded weed-eater nicking the trunk and also to keep their roots cool, especially surface-feeder roots like 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. Fungicides are used aplenty; the dreaded Roundup is used between the rows and they are probably grown from chemically-treated seeds.
Your garden deserves better and so do you!
There is so much carbon around so do collect it up – leaves, seagrass and dried grass are great around the plants and will help keep the soil cool.