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How to prepare the best mulch for your garden before Spring arrives

Everything you need to know about mulch to transform your garden this year

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By Edwain Steenkamp | July 24, 2023 | Gardens

The winter months aren’t always the most productive when it comes to the garden: projects come to a halt, plants go to sleep, and our activities migrate indoors. But while we may not do much gardening per se, it doesn’t mean we can’t prepare for the warmer months. Preparing mulch for Spring is a great way of setting up your garden to be at its best when the new season arrives.

What is mulch?

Mulch is any material that you spread over the soil surface in plant beds or landscapes in the garden. It can play a big role in maintaining healthy plants and improving overall conditions in the garden. When considering what material to use, you have the option between organic and inorganic, or a combination of the two.

Organic mulches, like wood chips, straw, compost, or shredded leaves, slowly break down over time, and enriches the soil with nutrients.

Inorganic mulches, such as plastic sheets or gravel, provide excellent weed suppression, but do not add any nutrients to the soil.

Mulching is an excellent way of encouraging growth in designated areas like garden beds or walkways. Mulching also keeps these areas neat, tidy and looking organised. Image: Daniela Araya via Unsplash

A quick garden audit

Before you get started, you might want to a quick assessment of your garden’s needs. Are you looking to boost plant growth? Keep weeds at bay? Or perhaps you’re looking to keep flower beds looking neat and full? Additionally, different plants might prefer different mulch materials, and the quantity required could vary based on the garden's size and layout. For most gardens, organic mulches are the ideal choice, as they improve soil structure and support the growth of beneficial micro-organisms. Based on your garden's specific needs, select the most suitable organic mulch material.

Wood chips are an excellent choice for making mulch. Be aware however that certain woods retain moisture in different ways, and some release different types of nutrients. Due to these factors, it’s best to do a bit of research beforehand so that you’re not depriving – or indeed, overloading – your plants in any way. Image: John Kinnander, via Unsplash

Preparing the mulch

Organic mulch will take the most prepping time. You can gather straw, leaves, twigs, or wood chips and start mixing them in a large pile. If you’re starting the process in winter, be sure to keep the pile somewhere relatively dry like a shed. In this way, you can add more material in the coming weeks. You might also want to go the route of adding compost to the mix, which you can make yourself at home (you’ll find a handy guide here.).

The beauty of making your own mulch is that over time, you can add various things: leaves, wood, and even your kitchen scraps. This makes it very economical, effective, and good for the environment. If you’re feeling especially thrifty, you might try asking around at building sites for wood chips, and even thatchers, who often have a lot of reed clippings. Image: Daniel Spase via Unsplash

Waiting for the right time

As your pile of mulch accumulates, you might be tempted to start the process before Spring, but be wary of this. Laying down mulch can lock moisture and cold into the ground – which could be disastrous with this year’s rainy season. Rather wait until the days become a bit warmer.

Soil needs a period of warming after winter to ensure optimal plant growth, so it’s essential to wait before laying down mulch. Mulching too early will lead to the soil remaining cold and damp which will inhibit plants from flourishing. Image: Manfred Richter via Pixabay

Laying down the mulch

Before applying mulch, clear your garden beds of any weeds, debris, or dead plants. Weeds left under the mulch can continue to grow and compete with the other plants you’re trying to grow – so be mindful of that! Remove any other obstacles (be sure to look out for any irrigation pipes!) and ensure the garden beds are level and well-prepared for your mulch.

Spread a layer of mulch around a few centimetres thick evenly over your garden beds (or whichever area you choose to cover). Ensure a few centimetres of space around the stems of plants. Avoid piling mulch against the plant stems, as this can create an overly-moist environment that could promote rot and unwanted pests.

Once you start laying down mulch, be sure not crowd the plants with the materials. This could lead to some nasty critters paying your plants a visit. Image: by Justin Sinclair via Unsplash