Thursday, May 19, 2011

Keep it Covered

            Last week, I had 40 bags of organic bark mulch delivered.  Mulching is, for me, one of the most pleasant garden tasks I can think of.  It’s instantly gratifying, beautifying, and I love the smell of a freshly mulched garden. 
            When I lived in Massachusetts, I always mulched my garden in late Spring and in mid-Autumn and I suspect that this will be my routine here in Brooklyn as well.  In early Spring, I pull back the mulch from the previous Autumn to allow the soil to warm up and to prepare it for planting.  Once I have worked the soil or installed the new plantings, I apply new garden mulch to conserve soil moisture through the dry Summer months.
            Autumn mulching allows the soil to retain heat over the Winter, giving a higher starting temperature in the new season.  It also protects the soil from Winter precipitation and erosion. 
            Many folks balk at a 2 times a year process, but the advantages of mulching regularly are many:
·         Keeps the garden beds looking clean and attractive
·         Reduces water loss and conserves moisture in the soil during Summer
·         Keeps soil surface and plant roots cool in Summer
·         Helps retain warmth in the soil over the Winter for earlier Spring growth
·         Organic mulches break down to fertilize and condition the soil
·         Encourages earthworm activity which itself improves drainage and fertility
I’ve never been a big fan of inorganic mulches such as plastic sheets, gravel, rubber and stone.  They don’t break down and some, like plastic, are not permeable and does not allow oxygen to reach the soil.  Gravel and rubber get messy and end up all over paths and steps.
Organic mulches are those that used to be living material, such as bark, straw, leaves, grass clippings and pine needles. These organic mulches improve the soil by adding nutrients as they decompose and encouraging earthworm activity. I recommend being generous when you apply mulch, 2 to 3 inches being sufficient cover.  However, make sure you leave some clear space around new plantings and watch out that you don’t put so much mulch down that water can’t penetrate the layer.  It’s a good idea to fluff your mulch every so often to avoid matting.  I’ll leave it to you decide the fate of “colored mulches”!
Finally, I like to mulch my pots and containers as well.  I use terracotta pots which can dry out easily in the heat and a layer of mulch keeps pot plantings well watered for a longer time.


  1. Hello Michael:
    We well understand the reasons you give for mulching and where water is in short supply, this is an excellent thing to do. Like you, we should never consider anything other than organic material. Alternatives are simply suburban and ghastly.

    Now, on a point of design, why do you have all those curves in your grass?

  2. Jane & Lance - The photos are not mine. I'm not keen on curves! I will be taking photos of my garden and posting them today or tomorrow before I leave for holiday. Rubber mulch....why??

  3. Hello Michael [again]:
    We are so relieved! To be fair, we did think that the picture was used to illustrate a point.

    In answer to your previous reply, we gardened at Arrow Cottage in Herefordshire. If you Google our name, something about the garden will probably come up, but it might be a little way down on account of the gardening books which I have written. L

  4. Hello,

    I love also the smell of a freshly mulched garden.
    Very interesting blog spot. Thanks.

    I prefer your new picture of your profile, you are a hansome men. :-)

    Have a nice weekend

  5. Lance - I was able to find a few photos of your garden at Arrow Cottage and, of course, I'm very impressed and inspired! Have you written a book on how you came about designing and installing the garden? I'm sure that would make for interesting reading.

    Jerome - thank you for your kind comments! Hope you're having a great weekend!