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Garden Care Tips


Mulching Your Garden
Mulch helps keep moisture in and weeds out. What's more, it can provide nice texture and a clean look to your garden. Read on for helpful mulching tips.

Mulch provides a nice look and added benefits to your plants.
Mulch provides a nice look and
added benefits to your plants.

  • Cover garden beds with a layer of mulch to keep weeds down and reduce the need for water. Annual weed seeds are less likely to sprout when the soil is covered with enough mulch to keep the soil surface in the dark.

  • When it comes to water, even a thin layer of mulch -- nature's moisturizer -- will reduce evaporation from the soil surface. Thicker mulches can reduce water use by as much as 50 percent.

    Mulches vary in their appearance, makeup, and texture, which will influence how you use them. Here are some examples:

    Varying appearances: For a soothing, natural-looking garden, use dark-colored organic mulches made of bark or compost. For a brilliant-looking garden, consider a mulch of bright gravel. In utilitarian gardens like a vegetable garden, plastic or straw makes excellent mulch.

    Soil improvement: This calls for the use of organic mulches that break down to add organic matter to the soil.

    Texture: For maximum effectiveness with only a thin mulch layer, look for fine-textured mulches such as twice-shredded bark, compost, or cocoa hulls. For an airy mulch, try thicker layers of coarse-textured mulches such as straw or bark chunks.

  • Kill off sod or dense weeds by layering newspaper, compost, and mulch directly on the garden site. This treatment cuts off the sunlight to unwanted vegetation, which will eventually decay and add organic matter to the garden. The newspaper decomposes, too. (What a bargain!)If you build the compost layer at least 4 inches high, you can plant shallow-rooted annuals or vegetable seedlings into it. In a year or so, loosen the soil deeply or build it up into a raised bed if you want to grow deeper-rooted perennials, shrubs, and trees.

    Mulch new plants with straw or chopped leaves after planting in the fall to prevent root damage during winter. A little mulch used immediately after planting can help to keep the soil moist and encourage continued root growth.But the main reason to mulch lies ahead, in winter. Alternately freezing and thawing, expanding and contracting soil can break new roots or even push new plantings out of the ground, a process called soil heaving. By mulching generously with an airy material like straw when the soil first freezes, you can help keep the soil frozen until winter ends, at which point the mulch can be removed.
  • In winter, mulch evergreen perennials and ground covers with evergreen boughs to protect them from winter burn (the cold-weather opposite of sunburn). When the soil is frozen, the wind is strong, and the sun is bright, moisture is pulled out of the vulnerable leaves and cannot be replaced by the frozen roots. A protective layer of evergreen boughs, possibly obtained by recycling the branches of a Christmas tree, forms a protective shield over vulnerable greenery. Straw will also do the job, especially in colder areas where there is less chance of rot in winter.

  • Celebrate if you live in a snowy area. Snow is the best mulch of all, and it may allow you to grow plants that won't survive winter in snowless areas farther south.
  • Check out the next section for other garden care tips, including how to stake floppy plants and when to give up on a plant that's not thriving in your garden.

    Want more gardening tips? Try:

    • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
    • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
    • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
    • Gardening: Discover how to garden.