Mulching with Straw on Garden Bed

Mulching Your Garden: Why, When & How

If you’re new to gardening or a seasoned gardener, you’ve probably heard of mulching. Some experienced gardeners mulch and some don’t. At the end of the day, it won’t make a huge impact on your gardening results. There are lots of benefits to mulching your garden beds, however it’s not as simple as just covering them in mulch and calling it a day. 

Here’s an overview of why gardeners mulch, when to do it, and how to mulch!  

Why Mulch Your Garden Beds? 

Strawberries planted in a garden bed mulched with wood chips.
  1. It retains soil moisture. This is a big reason why most gardeners do mulch. It acts as a barrier between the sun and your soil. It prevents excessive evaporation AND regulates the soil temperature during those hot summer days. If you’ve ever touched the topsoil on an un-mulched garden bed during a heatwave mid-summer, you’ll understand why this is considered an important step in your gardening journey. 
  2. The brown organic material will break down and provide valuable nutrients to your soil and therefore your plants 
  3. It provides a natural barrier to protect it from weeds. The mulch doesn’t allow air-borne weeds to land in your soil and start germinating. That’s not to say it doesn’t still happen, but it will reduce your need for weeding. 
  4. It protects soil from frost. Similar to how it retains moisture due to its insulating factors, it also protects the soil from frost over the winter. 

When to Mulch Your Garden Beds? 

Tomato and basil plants in a garden bed mulched with grass clippings

There are a few answers to this. Here’s when you should mulch depending on your gardening process. 

  1. Mid-Late Spring: Mulching mid-late spring allows time for the soil to start warming up after the cold winter months. It’s vital not to mulch too early, this can slow down the warming process (again, think about its insulation properties from above). Seedlings can push and grow through a thin layer of mulch, but too thick and it will become impenetrable. 
  2. Fall: You can mulch perennials in the fall as they’ve gone dormant for the winter. It will retain your soil’s moisture, prevent it from eroding, protect the roots, and prevent weeds from growing in the spring. 

How to Mulch Your Garden Beds 

  1. Don’t mulch too close to the stems of the plant
  2. For freshly planted seedlings, it’s best practice to wait to mulch until the seedling is established, then mulch the soil around the plant but not too close to the stem. Going too close will cause insects that live in the mulch to attack the plant. 

What Should I Use to Mulch My Garden Beds? 

Broccoli in a raised garden bed mulched with grass clippings

Best practices for mulching garden beds include using organic matter – things that decompose. Landscape mulch is not ideal for garden beds as it’s dyed or made of inorganic matter. Here’s a quick list: 

  1. Chopped leaves (our preferred method)
  2. Woodchips 
  3. Straw
  4. Grass clippings
  5. Compost
  6. Manure 
  7. Cardboard 

Things NOT to Mulch 

  1. Don’t mulch over weeds – it just helps them grow stronger 
  2. Don’t mulch over creeping and spreading plants – they need space to grow. 

Will you start mulching your garden beds this season? Let us know if you found this useful and will start mulching as part of your gardening practices.

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