One of the best green thumb practices for Galveston County gardeners is the use of mulch. Mulching is a long-established horticultural practice that can save time and money. Use of a mulch can also provide significant benefits to landscape plants by reducing damage to trunks caused by lawn mowers and line trimmers.
What is a mulch? By definition, it is a protective ground cover that reduces evaporation of soil moisture, helps maintain uniform soil temperatures, reduces soil erosion, controls weeds, and, in the case of organic mulches, enriches the soil.
Mulches can be classified as organic or inorganic. The organic mulches are the most popular and widely used by gardeners. These include a variety of materials, such as straw, compost, leaves, pine needles and barks. Inorganic mulches include plastic, rocks, chips and other non-plant materials.
One of the major advantages of mulch is the reduction in soil moisture loss by up to 70 percent. This is especially true with a reasonably thick layer of organic mulches. Given residential water costs, this should be a primary reason for encouraging the use of mulches.
The insulating value of mulches helps keep the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Better growth of your plants throughout the growing season will occur if excessive fluctuations in soil temperature can be reduced.
Erosion control is also an important function of mulch. While we have a fairly flat topography, erosion can be a concern especially in sloping areas or bare areas that are exposed to heavy rains. Mulching helps reduce rain splash and runoff, which in some cases can significantly reduce the spread of several types of plant disease organisms.
Another major benefit of mulching is the suppression of weeds. A 4-to-6 inch layer of organic mulch should be sufficient to prevent sunlight from reaching the soil, thereby reducing the incidence of weeds.
Mulch will not prevent all weed seeds from sprouting. However, a thick layer of mulch keeps most annual weed seedlings from coming through. Weeds that do manage to break through are easily pulled including nutgrass.
Another benefit of organic mulches is that they enrich the soil as they decay, forming a rich, dark, organic material called humus. Humus provides nutrients to the soil thereby enhancing soil fertility. It also improves the soil structure of our gumbo clays (i.e. it loosens up tight clay particles).
Last but not least, mulch has aesthetic value. The range of colors and textures available offers a material for almost any landscape or garden. The uniform quality added to the "garden floor" serves much the same aesthetic purpose as carpet does inside the home or the lawn outside the home.
So what are some of these marvelous mulches? There are many available. Keep in mind that using a material that is readily available will cost less and most likely will be better suited to your landscape.
Because organic mulches decompose and can "burn up" due to the intense summer heat in the Galveston County area, they will need to be added to or replaced periodically.
This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore, under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.
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