Mulch like a pro and transform your #ISaveWater garden into a masterpiece

It may be best, when addressing the topic of mulching, to first introduce the concept of permaculture. On a loose definition, permaculture is a philosophy and approach towards man-made environments that emphasises the creation of a total ecosystem rather than focusing on a single aim.

In short, it suggests that we need to mimic a number of processes that occur naturally to minimise the negative impact of human actions. In this broad view of permaculture, mulching is very much a practice we should all know about.

What is mulch?

Mulch is essentially anything that provides a barrier between exposed top soil and environmental elements like sunlight and the atmosphere. This includes even plastic mulch and “living mulch” – low growing plant life or grass between areas with larger plants. Usually, however, when we speak of mulch in South Africa, we’re referring to organic mulch, sheet mulch or a generous layer of pebbles or stones.

In this article, we’re focusing on organic mulch as it’s easy to produce, widespread and provides a variety of exceptionally important benefits – most important of which is significant water saving.

Organic mulch

This class of mulch certainly fits the broad definition of permaculture very well, and is mainly made up of biodegradable garden waste like grass clippings, fallen leaves (especially in Autumn), shredded branches, tree trunk woodchips, discarded bark and compost. A handful or two of eggshells can also be thrown in for good measure.

Owing to the fact that grass clippings and dry leaves can blow away in the wind, experienced green thumbs most often aim to create nutrient rich and luxurious compost heaps – consisting of grass, leaves and shredded plant and tree material – for their mulching needs.

This compost is already dense and relatively heavy, and won’t be blown away by wind or washed away by rain. And if you’re aiming to start enriching your top soil immediately, nutrients from the already significantly decayed compost will enter the ground quickly. Wood chips and, to a lesser extent, tree bark take much longer to decay.

Organic mulch brings three exceptional benefits to eco-friendly and sustainable gardening

As mulch, compost provides plants with brilliant nutrients, attracts earthworms (which aerate and fertilise soil) and prevents surface runoff

  • It helps soil retain our most precious resource – water

When long or heavy rain falls, a generous layer of mulch will slow surface runoff, thereby ensuring that the rain penetrates and saturates the soil. Once this life sustaining moisture is in place, it is kept there as the ground cover keeps sunlight and wind from the surface. This means less evaporation.

  • It recycles nutrients and lessens waste

Plants, and especially grass, retain many of the nutrients (like nitrogen) they extracted from the soil when they were still growing. By composting these organic products and using them as mulch, these nutrients are returned to the soil and provide food for the next generation. It should go without saying that the reuse/recycling of waste, particularly if it has so many direct benefits, is always a good thing.

  • It prevents soil erosion and degradation

When people think of soil erosion and degradation, they most often visualise a tragic scene where a beautiful forest once stood. But it happens in gardens, too, which only broadens this destructive phenomenon. Mulch not only slows surface runoff to protect the integrity of the soil, its positive contribution to the growth of healthy, strong plant life means that more roots hold the top-soil in place. In this way the rich nutrients are preserved, and increased soil moisture content raises the productivity of the garden.

Whichever mulching technique you’re thinking of employing, there’s no doubt it’s a win-win.

To find out how to get the best out of your efforts and expenditure, speak to the knowledgeable staff at your nearest Builders. For all your DIY needs, shop online here.

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