Know Before You Grow: Love it or hate it — Mulch, mulch, mulch …

Photo provided Mulch is too high on tree trunk. When mulch was scraped away, adventitious roots were found growing out of the tree trunk. This is not desirable and can lead to root griddling and eventually death.

Gardeners often develop a schedule of gardening tasks as they create and maintain both landscape and edible gardens.

For example, applying mulch at a depth of 2 to 2 ¢ inches is a task generally completed by gardeners during the spring. Mulching too early in spring may not allow the soil to dry sufficiently and subsequently affect root development, so laying mulch in May or June is recommended.

Why then talk about mulch in September?

This gardener finds mulching to be a time-consuming, laborious chore that I admittedly do not enjoy. Sometimes I procrastinate in the spring while waiting for a perhaps forgotten plant to emerge in the garden. As garden plants mature, mulching around plants becomes more bothersome. Even the pleasure of seeing a freshly mulched garden bed and feeling the accomplishment of a job well done may not be sufficient enticements to complete spring mulching.

Anyway, this year I postponed this chore until fall.

The benefits of mulching are numerous and include: conserving soil moisture, moderating soil temperatures, suppressing weeds as well as reducing soil erosion. Master Gardeners learn that organic mulches — shredded bark, bark chips, pine needles, compost, straw and cardboard — are especially effective in contributing to soil health as these materials decompose over time.

Depending on where a gardener lives, the abundance of different types of organic mulch materials may vary. During the fall, shredded leaves — not whole leaves that may form a nearly impenetrable mat — are another type of mulch.

Since too much mulch may threaten the health of the plant, removing the old mulch before laying the new mulch may be indicated.

An intriguing alternative type of mulch is living mulch or green mulch, as mentioned in a recent article by Joe Boggs with The Ohio State University Extension Service. That is, certain plants such as low-growing herbs or native ground covers can be planted to provide the same benefits as traditional types of mulches with the additional bonus of attracting butterflies and pollinators to the garden.

To learn more, you might want to read “Living Mulch – an Ecological Alternative to Wood Mulch” found at the website www.edgeofthewoodsnursery.com.

Based on casual, not scientific, observations in my garden, lemon thyme can become a ground cover where bees feast and a ground cover of native wild ginger plants limits the growth of weeds.

There is a great deal to learn about mulches including synthetic mulch and dyed mulch as well as considerations for application. A few resources you may find informative are:

“Mulch – A Survey of Available Options” by Joe Boggs, OSU Extension

• Mulching Landscape Plants, Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, HYG-1083-96.

By the way, one more thing to keep in mind about mulching is the best way to mulch trees. Rather than piling mulch to create a volcano at the base of a tree, lay mulch at a depth of 2-3 inches. Mulch should not touch the tree as the root flare, where the roots grow outward from the base of the tree, should be visible. Otherwise, the health of the tree is at risk because of a too-moist environment that may lead to disease.

No more excuses for me. Autumn has arrived, and my research indicates that fall mulching is beneficial too. After tidying up my garden beds, I plan to finally do that mulching chore on a cool autumn day.

Mary Marks completed the OSU Extension Master Gardener training in 2010 shortly after moving to Marietta, Ohio. A retired medical social worker with a master’s of social work, her gardening interests include incorporating native plants in the garden and identifying/controlling invasive plants.


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