Preparing to mulch the garden in spring laying out a row of organic mulch in bags around the edge of the flowerbed on a neatly manicured green lawn

What Is Mulching, Really? The Hidden Benefits of Mulching Your Plants

It’s February and as people start getting cabin fever, thoughts turn to spring. With springtime comes gardening and landscaping. And with gardening and landscaping comes…mulching! So, to provide an overview, what is mulching?

Most people view it as simply spreading mulch around plants for decoration and water preservation.  But let’s go deeper. So, what is mulching as it relates to deeper soil and plant issues in your garden or landscape?

Two Main Types of Mulch

Mulch, sometimes also known as compost, is a thick layer of material usually applied to the top of the soil surface. It used to be that mostly organic material was used, but we now also use inorganic materials for mulching, as well. And while there are many materials available, the two primary types of mulch are organic and inorganic.

Organic Mulch

Organic mulch is material that has been chopped, broken down, or composted from some form of living material. Materials like wood chips, straw, and bark tend to be the most popular. One of the prime benefits is that organic composts eventually break down themselves, adding organic matter, and, thus they improve the soil.

Large heart-shaped landscape area with red cedar mulch, some tallgrass, and some flowers, with brick edging

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulch is material that does not break down or decompose, such as landscape gravels or rubber mulch. However, rubber will eventually break down, but only over a very long time.

Inorganic materials may cost more on the front-end, but the beneficial trade-off is that they tend to be more cost-efficient over time. The reason is that they don’t need to be applied with each new growth or dormancy season or even every year.

Reasons to Mulch

As we know, reasons for applying mulch include conservation of moisture and decorative purposes. However, some of the lesser-known benefits of mulching include:

  1. increasing soil fertility
  2. improving the health and nutrition of the soil
  3. inhibiting weed growth and harmful insects

This layer aids in the retention of moisture by forming an impermeable layer over the top. This layer, in turn, aerates the earth’s crust and improves the water holding capacity of the soil thereby enhancing its fertility. Mulching can also improve the texture of your garden bed by acting as a spongy cushioning layer and helping to retain the original shape of your garden bed, thus protecting it from weed seeds that may penetrate through to the ground.

Mulching increases soil fertility.

The first deeper reason to mulch is to improve the soil’s fertility. As it creates the impermeable layer of organic matter on the top, the soil is better able to retain the valuable nutrients that are available to it. The foremost among these nutrients is nitrogen, which is necessary to supply the growing needs of plants.

Nitrogen is widely deemed to be the most important component for promoting health and growth. It is part of the makeup of chlorophyll, which is essential to the plant’s food creating process by means of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll also assigns plants their green color when they’re healthy.

The next most important nutrient that is conserved is phosphorous. Phosphorus is vital in every stage of plant development and growth. It is integral to a wide range of biological processes and is a key factor in helping your plant convert and retain energy from sunlight during photosynthesis. Thus, it promotes root development and growth, flowering and fruit production, and delivering nutrients.

Mulching improves the health and nutrition of the soil.

The second reason it’s important to mulch is that the moisture conserved in the soil creates a better environment for plant root growth.

Applying mulch helps protect the structure of the soil and shield it from erosive winds and other forces that can break up the soil. This protects the structural integrity of your soil making it healthier for plant growth and less susceptible to erosive forces.

You are, in effect, creating a shield or “barrier” for your plants to protect the soil from destructive rainfall, ice, or snowfall. When you protect the soil in this way, maintaining the consistency of the soil makes it possible for your plants to root better.

Plus, you also protect the valuable afore-mentioned nutrients.  This is especially important in areas prone to drought or high amounts of rain or snow. Mulching prevents an overabundance of moisture from seeping into the soil and leaching away from the roots of your plants.

Mulching inhibits weed growth and harmful insects.

One more primary benefit of using mulch is the protection of your plants and shrubs against weed invasion and harmful insects.

When you mulch your garden, your soil will become a healthier, cleaner environment. Furthermore, it helps to deter the growth of harmful weeds and limits the number of insects and pests in your garden.

So, ultimately this can significantly improve the overall health of your plants and shrubs. Healthy and clean soil is a vital requirement for a healthy garden. So by mulching, you are taking an important first step in the health of your plants.

Summary: What Is Mulching?

Applying high-quality organic mulch correctly is a key element in creating healthy, fertile soil for your plants. Plus, it looks great and makes upkeep much easier. So what is mulching? It’s applying a layer of organic compost or inorganic matter to your topsoil as an important step toward keeping your plants healthy.

As always, Heartland Landscape Group is here to help. We’ll be glad to speak with you about installing new landscape features or updating your existing outdoor living spaces.

Teaser: Be sure to check back in a few weeks as we’ll add more information on how to mulch around trees and mulch supplies!

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