19 Valuable freebie

first_imgIf the prospect of free mulch interests you, look no farther than your own backyard. Herbicide-free grass clippings, leaves and pine needles are an excellent source of mulch.It’s a tossup as to who will benefit the most — your plants or you — when you use organic mulches. Benefits of mulchWith a 2- to 4-inch layer: The soil won’t crust, and precious moisture won’t evaporate, potentially cutting your watering needs in half. When the Georgia summer is cooking, the roots will be chilling. The soil temperature will be as much as 25 degrees lower when the air temperature is 100 degrees. So the roots stay healthier and take up water more efficiently. There will be fewer weeds and more earthworms and beneficial microbic activity. The plants will stay cleaner and be subject to fewer diseases, since the soil (many diseases are soil-borne) won’t splash up on them. As the mulch breaks down, nutrient-rich organic matter will be added to the soil. Drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses become invisible under the mulch.Compost and shredded bark are good organic mulches, too. You can also use aged sawdust, weed-free hay and straw (Coastal Bermuda hay is best) and processing by-products, such as cocoa bean hulls.Sphagnum peat moss is good as a soil additive, but not as a mulch. It acts as a water barrier, wicks precious moisture from the soil and can blow away.Getting the best resultsFor best results, apply these magnificent mulches to weed-free areas after the soil has warmed. Leave about a 1-inch opening around plant stems and crowns.The time it takes to mulch plantings is far outweighed by the time saved on the big “W’s” — watering and weeding. The few weeds that do germinate are surprisingly easy to pull.As you place mulch around your planting beds, take care to pull it slightly away from main stems and trunks. Don’t just pile it on — safeguard the trunk against insects and diseases.Since organic mulch degrades over time, adding nutrients to the soil, you’ll need to replenish your layer occasionally to maintain its thickness.By using your own free mulch, you’ll not only improve your soil at no cost, but will also trim the amount of waste that ends up in area landfills. This is truly a win-win situation. By Wayne McLaurin University of Georgia Volume XXVIII Number 1 Page 19last_img read more