If you’re trying to find ways to avoid hours of watering and weeding, mulching would be a good option. Mulch can be anything that restricts moisture loss from the soil improving nutrients and plant growth. Organic mulches such as grass clippings, straw, coffee grounds, corn cobs, and manure will decompose into humus improving the soils’ fertility, texture and structure to the soil. It will encourage earth worms that aerate the soil, protecting from soil contaminants and regulating the ground temperature. Peat moss mixed with pine needles will increase the flavour of strawberries and increases their stem strength while oak leaves can repel slugs, cutworms and june bug grubs.
Mulching performance is effective both in winter and summer months. Applying in the summer encourages growth of plants while discouraging weeds. Prior to a frost, mulch acts as a protection barrier saving perennial roots from the effects of soil freezing and thawing so they can establish their root system before the soil freezes. Cold season succession winter crops will extend several weeks longer by applying mulch to keep the soil temperatures warmer.
Mulches will help the soil keep its moisture longer by slowing the evaporation process. Mulch can soften the impact of heavy rains which reduce compaction, erosion and nutrient leaching while reducing the splashing action on the plant foliage which can result in disease infection. Organic mulches, as it decomposes stays loose and crumbly instead of being hard packed, so therefore shallow rooted crops add more soil surface in which to grow in.
Inorganic mulches, such as plastic landscape fabrics, stones, and gravel chips are longer lasting and odorless but they won’t add nutrients to your soil and they may also obstruct water and nutrients from reaching the roots and can suffocate both weed and plants. However, if you choose to apply inorganic ground covers consider temporary seasonal applications for heat loving warm season annuals such as melons and tomatoes while other vegetables and annuals need the fertility from organic mulches.
(Photo credits: UT Market Garden)