Pros and Cons of Mulching

bag of mulch

I am not a natural mulcher. I think it looks nice when first applied but quickly looks old and ratty and always seemed to me a waste of time and money. Then I started losing a lot of plants, particularly seedlings, during the hot summer. Sort of as a hail mary, I tried mulching and was pleasantly surprised by the results. My initial mulch was sourced from leaves in the back yard. They worked well enough to prove the experiment. Now I’ve moved up in the world to sugar cane mulch. It is easier to use and looks better but does have the disadvantage that it costs money. What I’ve learned about mulching is:

  1. Mulching helps keep the leaves of plants (or the whole plant when you’re talking about a seedling) off the ground so prevents rotting and minimises total plant death.
  2. Mulching helps retain water and mitigates the effects of temperature swings. My experience is that plants grow bigger, faster when mulched.
  3. Mulch does just about zilch to keep weeds down. Maybe I have a particularly hearty or enthusiastic weed set in my garden but I haven’t noticed significantly fewer weeds popping up in my mulched veggie patches.
  4. Wedding a mulched garden is much harder than weeding a non-mulched garden. I feel like I’m (in fact I am) only ripping the tops off weeds. I used to go through (plants permitting) with a small rake to really dig up the roots of weeds. Now I top them hoping the lack of photosynthesis will eventually spell their death (no supporting evidence of that yet). And I’ve applied the mulch in various thicknesses hoping to find a depth that even the most determined weeds could not breach – I suspect no such depth exists.
  5. Garden beds that are mulched look lovely when the mulch is first applied and look rather rotten when the mulch has been down a while, gets waterlogged, starts to decompose and is filled with weeds and dusted with fallen leaves.
  6. Cats don’t use mulch as a litter box (hooray!). When I mulch, Tash looks elsewhere for a spot to do her business. Leaving me just the necessity of protecting my seedbeds from her paws and deposits with my maze of twigs and branches.

Which all adds up to me being a mulch convert who is 75% satisfied. I will keep my eyes out for a solution that gets me 100% to my dream garden, but I won’t be surprised if that dream is one that lasts me a lifetime. And for the record, mulch is not a bandicoot deterrent. I find little bandicoot snout holes through my mulch allowing him to eat whatever tasty grub thrives within.

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About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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4 Responses to Pros and Cons of Mulching

  1. karen says:

    To mulch or not to mulch.. for our yard, that has been an ongoing debate/argument for years.

    I agree with your aesthetic argument – I think it looks terrible after the first 2 weeks and, for the first 2 weeks, it looks completely unnatural.

    However, it does keep in the moister and decomposes to some pretty fertile soil. If you really want weed reduction, you have to get the kind that’s been treated – think poisonous – and that kind certainly cannot be used in garden areas you plan to eat from.

    So, the debate rages.

  2. Pingback: Mulching « Gardora.net

  3. rita walsh says:

    the soil under my sugar cane mulch is always dry as through the water is not getting through the mulch at all. WHY ??

    • This is a tricky one. Mulch acts to keep heat and moisture in the soil but it also blocks the sun (so in winter the soil doesn’t benefit from the warmth of the sun) and absorbs+deflects some water (so with little or moderate rain you don’t get enough water to soak through to the soil). I try to keep the mulch loose enough for water to penetrate. I don’t generally put it very thick because I need more water to get through. And when you first apply it, soak the mulch really well so that the soil underneath gets wet. It’s a balancing act. I hope you find the best balance for your garden. Let me know how you go.

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