The latest plugs about the benefits of physical activity go something like this:
What if your doctor told you there was something available that would improve your mental and physical health, prolong your life and make you feel good? It’s good, old exercise — basically a magic pill for your whole body — and it’s free.
In the garden, that magic pill is mulch.
It offers myriad benefits for flowers, vegetables and trees; reduces the gardener’s workload; and makes everything look better. And sometimes, such as when you use compost or chopped leaves from your own garden as mulch, it’s even free.
In most gardens, now — in mid- to late spring — is the time to start applying mulch.
Do it sooner, and you risk keeping soil cold and damp — not ideal growing conditions for most plants. But wait too long, and you might miss one of mulch’s top benefits: its weed-suppressing powers.
By keeping the soil surface covered and deprived of light, mulch prevents many weed seeds from germinating.
Putting the kibosh on weeds, though, isn’t the only superpower wielded by this seemingly mundane material. Mulch can also:
‒ Conserve soil moisture, by acting as a blanket that keeps water from evaporating.
‒ Moderate soil temperature, by keeping soil cooler in summer and minimizing wide temperature swings throughout the year.
‒ Reduce frost heaving, by preventing the freezing and thawing of soil that can lift new plants out of the ground.
‒ Reduce erosion, by keeping precious topsoil from blowing or washing away.
‒ Make yards and gardens look better, by providing a unifying “background” for landscape plants and by creating defined edges between garden beds and lawns or walkways.
‒ Add organic material to soil, by slowly decomposing into smaller particles.
As with exercise, though, you can have too much of a good thing. With bark mulch, for instance, probably the most popular kind, more than a couple inches’ worth harms most plants.
And whatever you do, don’t create the dreaded “volcano effect” around tree trunks.
Mulch piled high around tree bark can lead to disease, unhealthy growth and even death.