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How Much Mulch is Enough?

Of my 3 keys to success (soil preparation, adding organic matter, and mulching), mulching is the one I most heavily depend on to bring about success.

For example, if for some reason a gardener can’t prepare the soil deeply for a garden bed (the first key to success), but has the time to let nature do it for them, they need only add a deep layer of mulch to the designated space. (If you have the time for deep soil preparation it gives you a quicker start to more successful gardening. Nature takes a few years to prepare the bed for the best result. )

Mulching can also take care of the second key: adding organic matter.

When you mulch with organic materials, you ARE adding organic matter to the soil.

All organic mulches decay (and thus become organic matter), so in the end they give you all the great benefits that adding organic material/matter gives you.

Some Benefits of organic matter (and thus, of mulch):

  • feeding the soil,
  • better drainage,
  • retaining water for when crops need it the most,
  • improving soil structure,
  • holding nutrients in the soil and
  • slowly releasing them as your plants need them.

Helps Give You a Higher Yield

Plants don’t produce when soil temperatures climb to 90 and 100 degrees. Mulching can make a 20 degree difference in soil temperatures.

The cooler temperatures will keep your plants producing, giving you a higher yield.

Can Cut Weeds and Weeding Time Up to 99% if Done Correctly

This is one of the benefits that I couldn’t garden without.  A few minutes now and then is all I want to spend weeding.

But How Much Mulch is Enough? How Much Should You Use?

I’ve recently seen pictures of garden beds with a few pieces of straw that the gardener obviously considered to be mulched. It made me realize there are those who think of mulching as a light covering of straw (or other organic material) and/or think they can obtain all the benefits of mulching from this light layer.

If you want to obtain the results and benefits that I get from mulching you have to use mulch with a free hand. You can’t just sprinkle a few fork-fulls of mulch across a bed and think you’re going to reap all the rewards mulch has to offer.

Pile the straw on the beds and mulch your paths. When you pile loose straw on it’ll look like a lot, but will quickly settle to an inch or so.  Aim for two to six inches of mulch after it’s settled.

The yellow blooming plantings on the right hand side are two Russian Kale plants setting seed. Picture was taken in the spring of 2012.

Things like peas and beans come up through a layer of mulch.  Onions and lettuce seedlings are mulched lightly after planting and then I continually add more mulch as the plants grow.

There’s always a time to use a light layer of straw. For example, newly planted seed beds, on small transplants like lettuce and even onions, so the mulch won’t be to heavy for them. As they grow, you can continually add more straw to increase the depth of the mulch.

Final Thoughts

Now is the time to think ahead so you’ll have all your beds mulched when the weather starts to warm and the rain stops.

When you plant things like lettuce seed or seedlings and/or onions sprinkle a light layer on to keep the soil from drying.  Be ready in another week (or possibly less) to add more.

If you want to know a lot more about mulching, be sure to review the posts listed below. Also, I think you’ll find the pictures on the various posts to be helpful.

I don’t think I’ve missed covering anything you need to know in all I’ve written, but if I have, feel free to ask.

Enjoy all the time you’ll save by mulching and enjoy the great benefits and more successful garden as well!

I cover the garden beds with a layers of leaves in the fall and cover with another layer of straw (either in the fall or spring).

I cover the garden beds with a layer of leaves in the fall and then cover with another thick layer of straw (either in the fall or spring).

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Related Posts:

Mulching:

Mulch – Keeping the Moisture In or Keeping It Out?

Hay or Straw – Which to use for Mulch

10 Reasons to Mulch

Mulching – A Way to Increase Your Yield

3 Things to Keep In Mind When You Mulch

Why Mulch Your Garden Paths?

Mulching Your Fruits, Vegetables, and Perennials

Want to Garden Successfully – Look to Nature

Secrets to Almost Effortless Maintenance of Borders and Gardens

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Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.

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All content including photos is copyright by TendingMyGarden.com. All Rights Reserved.

6 comments to How Much Mulch is Enough?

  • Thanks again, Theresa!

    The past few days I have been doing the one chore I really dislike–mucking out the goat sheds. Besides growing the compost pile, I have been putting a thick layer of the used straw on top of two long rows in my garden that I plan to add in the future. I’ll pull the mulch aside and dig the rows when I get a “round to-it.” Today’s post makes me think I’m on the right track!

    Betty

  • RAY KENT

    I DON’T THINK THERE IS ANYTHING YOU CAN DO FOR A GARDEN AND TO DECREASE WORK TIME THAN MULCH. I MOSTLY MULCH WITH CHOPPED LEAVES AND USE ALL I CAN GET. I HAVE A LOT OF TREES AND AM PICKY ABOUT WHERE ELSE I TAKE THEM FROM. FOR SMALL PLANTS I CUT THE BOTTOM OF USED PAPER COFFEE CUPS (I LIKE LARGE) AND PUT THEM OVER THE LITTLE PLANTS. I CAN USE HEAVY MULCH AND KEEP IT FROM DIRECT CONTACT WITH PLANTS. IT’S SURPRISING HOW MANY CUPS A COFFEE DRINKER GETS ON THE ROAD AND IF YOU SAVE THEM, RECYCLE AND SAVE WORK. I HAVE ALSO DONE THE SAME THING WITH PLASTIC CUPS. MOST OF THESE LAST 2 OR 3 YEARS.

    RAY KENT

  • Theresa

    Definitely on the right track, Betty! By the time you get “round-to” digging the ground should be pretty nice and make the job a lot easier. I’ve got three beds working that way myself.

    Ray, I’m sure coffee drinkers who buy coffee “on the road” will appreciate that recycling tip.
    I envy you all those trees. I have just enough trees to give me leaves for a relatively nice layer over my garden in the fall, but always wish I had more.

    Theresa

  • Sandra

    I agree, and it now seems odd to see bare soil. I was spending 90% of my time weeding until I learned this fundamental thing from Theresa.

  • Bonnie

    I don’t use straw to mulch but a shredded cypress mulch. What do you think?

  • Theresa

    It’s not necessary to use a straw mulch Bonnie, but I think I might be looking for something else rather than commercially sold shredded cypress mulch.

    Cypress groves are found where lowlands meet the ocean. Nature knew what she was doing by placing them there as they cut storm surge from hurricanes by as much as 90%.

    Now that mulch has become so “mainstream” (even if only for cosmetic reasons) mature cypress trees have been harvested to sell as mulch. For various reasons, once harvested few if any groves of these trees will ever grow back. (Mature cypress trees can live to more than 1,000 years old.)

    In places like Louisiana and Florida where cypress tree are critical for defense against hurricanes, they are being harvested and sold for mulch.

    Even when and if the trees could or can be replaced, it would take longer by comparison than the rate at which the trees are being cut. One statistic I saw said per year – in Florida “20.4 million cubic feet of cypress are cut, but the trees’ natural replacement growth is only 17.1 million cubic feet”.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve frequented any places that sell mulch, but since it’s become so popular, bagged mulches now take many forms. The extension service in Florida encourages the use of mulch from melaleuca which is an invasive species that is taking over wetlands by inhibiting the growth of native plants. It’s suppose to be an excellent choice. A bonus is that it resists termites more than other mulches.

    They also encourage the use of eucalyptus mulch which comes from trees grown on plantations specifically for the mulch.

    I encourage you to find another mulch. Let me know how you do.
    Theresa

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