Gardening Basics: Mulch

Mulch is a term used in the agriculture and gardening industry to refer to a protective layer of covering placed on top of the soil to tame the effects of the climate. Mulch can be composed of natural or synthetic materials or the combination of both to form a wide assortment of covering substance.

Farmers and gardeners cover soils with mulch for various purposes. First it controls the proliferation of weeds by depriving them from sunlight and thus decreasing the chance for their germination. Next it helps retain water in the soil by slowing down the process of evaporation. Mulch also doubles as fertilizer when natural mulch materials break down into organic matter and nutrients which are beneficial for plant life. Certain materials of mulch can also repel insects that can be quite harmful to plants.

Mulch also helps plants to grow by reflecting sunlight to the plants upwards, which increases the process of photosynthesis – the production of plant food. Mulch also helps provide a dry and clean surface for the thriving of fruits that lie on the ground such as melons, cantaloupes, and squash.


There are many materials used in making mulch. Some materials are used by themselves while other are used in combination with each other. Mulch may be made of organic residues such as dry leaves, hay sawdust, wood chips, shredded newspapers, grass clippings, straw, wool and other safe scrap materials; such materials can also become natural fertilizers as they decompose and break down. Mulch can also be made of compost, fully decomposed materials, too keep the nutritional requirements of the plants. When using compost as mulch, it is important to remove all traces of weeds and their seeds to prevent their growth.

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Mulch may also be made from plastic to protect the soil and maintain its consistency. This is especially helpful for large agricultural industries. Another a material for mulch are organic sheets, they serve similar purposes as with plastic mulch, but they are biodegradable and thus more environment friendly. Rock and gravel can also serve as mulch, they are most often used to retain heat in cold areas and seasons. Pine needles can also be used as mulch and they are helpful in adjusting the soil temperature, keeping the soil warm during spring and fall, and cool during the summers.


The application of mulch usually occurs around the start of each growing season. If necessary, additional mulch is applied throughout the period. During the early stages of germination, mulch serves as insulator that keeps necessary heat within the soil. This helps seed to grow quickly and seedlings to grow rapidly as well. During the latter stages of plant growth, mulch regularizes moisture and temperature, keeping the plant and the soil in good condition for growth. At this point, mulch is also used to prevent the thriving of weeds. Mulch may also have certain aesthetic purposes. Shredded wood or other materials can be colored to look good in the landscape.

Mulch can be applied either manually or with the help of machines. Certain equipment may help applying mulch. For instance, plastic mulch can be laid down by a tractor as it forms planting beds in the field. Otherwise, mulch can be placed by the farmers and gardeners’ hands.

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