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COLUMN: Mulching is worth it
MULCHING is such a useful process and so simple.
You spread a layer of something or other on top of your soil, around your plants, and it stops the weeds coming up and keeps the existing moisture in.
It also reduces soil temperature, which will therefore reduce water loss, and makes beds and borders look somehow tidier, creating a neat carpet under which to display your plants.
But there are many mulches from which to choose — from organic manures and garden compost to bark chippings, straw and leaf mould.
So which one is best?
Well, from a nutritional point of view, you need to go for bio-degradable mulches, those which break down gradually to release nutrients into the soil.
You can’t beat a well-rotted farmyard manure, which is rich in nutrients, so it’s perfect for hungry feeders such as roses and fruit bushes.
Just make sure that it is well rotted because fresh manure releases ammonia which will scorch plants and may kill them.
If you find fresh manure at a cheap price, it will need stacking for at least six months to rot down before use.
If you don’t want to buy farmyard manure, think about making your own compost, but be warned that you need to follow certain guidelines to make rich, effective compost which is balanced.
Don’t fill a compost bin with mainly grass clippings or you’ll end up with a soggy mess.
Use a mixture of household waste including vegetable peelings, egg shells, torn up newspaper and tea leaves or coffee grounds, along with dead plants, rootballs or used potting compost and autumn leaves.
Don’t add any cooked foods or meats and avoid perennial weeds and diseased plants, which may leave spores in the compost which will do their damage when you add it to your borders.
Another homemade mulch is leaf mould, made from autumn leaves you rake up, which can then be stored in dustbin liners with holes for drainage.
It will take a year to break down but you should end up with a dark, sweet-smelling material which you can add to your beds and borders.
However, it tends to be shortlived and you’ll probably have to mulch again next season.
The best quality leaf mould is produced from the leaves of oak, beech or hornbeam.
Thick leaves such as sycamore, walnut, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut need to be shredded before adding to the pile.
If you’re patient, you can use well-rotted leaf mould which is more than two years old as seed-sowing compost, or mixed equally with sharp sand, garden compost and good-quality soil as potting compost.
Other choice mulches include garden compost, spent mushroom compost, cocoa shells, wood chippings, processed conifer bark, straw for strawberries and seaweed.
Bark, a by-product from the timber industry, is available in various forms and colours.
Composted bark is better and is widely available in garden centres and doesn’t go soggy in really wet weather.
TASKS FOR THE week
Start hardening off bedding plants but put them under cover if frost threatens. Plant hanging basket and keep them in a greenhouse or frost-free conservatory or porch until all danger of frost has passed. Earth up early potatoes to protect them from light and frost. Begin mowing the lawn regularly, to encourage dense growth. Feed fish as they become active again after winter. Give increasing amounts of water to greenhouse plants in containers, which should now be growing.