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Mulch - 2000

Mulch is the word used to describe a layer of material, such as straw, grass clippings, leavers or paper, which has been spread over the garden soil. 

Mulch is most often used to reduce weed growth and to keep the soil moist.  It is also helpful in keeping fruit such as tomatoes, melons and strawberries offf the ground, so they are less likely to bruise, mold or rot.  Organic mulches cen improve soil fertiity and structure as they break down.  Mulch prevents soils from washing away deuring hard rains or during watering.  It can keep the soil cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  A very thin layer of mulch put over a new seedbed, will help keep a crust from forming.  This makes it easier for the seedlings to push up through the ground.  The problem of walking in muddy paths can be avoided by putting down a good layer of mulch.

Mulches can be applied year-round.  The garden needs to be thoroughly weeded before the mulch is apxplied.  When using an organic mulch, it can be spread over the entire garden or just between rows.  When using a light, fluffy material like straw or hay, put it on 4 inches to 8 inches thick, being sure not to cover your vegetables.  When using a denser material like sawdust, only a couple of inches should be applied.

Mulch materials are available from many sources, such as garden centers, stables, and lumber yards.  The easiest actually is to use your own.  Grass clippings, pine needles, and small trimmings from the yard can all be used conveniently as mulches.  An excellent mulch is compost that is created from all the organic materials that a household generates as waste.  Composting, however, is not necessary for a mulch.  But if you are going to incorporate any organic material into the soil, as opposed to placing on the soil surface (mulching), then composting is required to prevent nitrogen competition with plants.

When using an inorganic mulch like black plastic, be sure there is an opening around the plant for air and water to get in.  Clear plastic should not be used as a mulch becasue it encourages weed growth by letting the sun shine through it.