What is mulch? Basically, mulch is any material spread atop the soil in planting beds. It may be organic, such as plant and tree materials, or inorganic, usually rock or stone.

Whatever its size, shape, or form, mulch can do many things!

Here are the important things to understand about mulch when landscaping your garden.

Organic mulch will decompose and have to be replaced, however in the process it will also improve your soil’s fertility and, of course, its organic content. The dryer and woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose and the fewer nutrients it will give to the soil.

It pays to know the origin of manure, compost, and straw since these materials can contain viable weed seeds. The last thing you want is to spread a mulch that is going to start sprouting and make more work for you. Each type of organic mulch has its own use.

Greatly Reduces Soil Moisture Loss

One-third of the water consumed around our homes is used on landscaping-and half of that is wasted through evaporation. Mulch acts somewhat like a one-way door: It allows water into the soil, but slows its departure through evaporation. Mulch also limits soil erosion and runoff.

Eliminates or Suppresses Weed Growth

A 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch makes it difficult for weed seeds to work their way into the soil. And by blocking light, mulch makes it harder for seeds that do sneak into the soil to germinate and grow. If a weed does struggle through-thistle and quack grass are tough customers-it will be easier to pull, because the soil will be loose and moist. This means you can get by with few or no chemicals and weed killers.

Protects Soil and Plants from Temperature Extremes

Mulch acts like insulation; it keeps the ground cool on hot days and warm on cold ones. It helps protect roots and plants by moderating traumatic day-night, freeze-thaw cycles.

Promotes Vigorous Growth in Young Plants, Newly Planted Trees, and Shrubs

These all have shallow root systems, totally dependent on rain or manual watering for moisture. Mulch holds that moisture in the soil for their use.

Enriches the Soil

Organic mulches add valuable nutrients to the soil as they decompose. Earthworms are attracted to the cool, rich soil beneath. Soil that normally bakes to a hard crust stays loose and moist.

Provides a Protective Buffer

Mulch forms a border to keep your mower and string trimmer at a distance, and absorbs the damage when they accidentally come across that border.

Improves the Appearance of the Landscape

Mulch adds colour and texture to your planting beds. It prevents mud from splashing your house and plants during rains, and provides a clean “carpet” for you to walk on as you tend your garden. It also helps to visually fill in the space while young plants grow to maturity to round out a planting bed.