East Texas Ag News: Benefits of mulch during summer (and any other time of the year)

Mulch in landscaping benefits
Mulch in landscaping benefits
Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 4:48 PM CDT
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - The addition of a layer of three inches of mulch is one of the best additions that you can make to any of your flower beds, shrubs, and trees. Coarse mulches applied at the right depth will conserve soil moisture, keep down weeds, reduce erosion, keep plant roots cool, provide winter protection, and make your yard more attractive.

Think of mulch as a protective covering that keeps soil moisture from evaporating. Watering is not cheap and watering your landscape can be time consuming. According to studies, mulches reduce evaporation loss by up to 30%. Protect what you have put out for your plants.

Mulch also moderates soil temperatures. A simple home experiment with a laser thermometer can shown soil temperatures to be several degrees higher in direct sun during the summer without the addition of mulch. In the winter, mulch serves as a blanket to keep sensitive roots from suffering from severe freezes like we had this past February.

Covering the bare spots under trees and shrubs will make your landscape more attractive to boot. Too many times, folks kick up worlds of dust when they mow under trees that are mostly bare soil.  The coverage provided by mulch provides a defined bed and greatly improves aesthetics.

For trees and shrubs, spread a coarse mulch evenly to a depth of three inches. For trees and shrubs in beds, mulch the entire bed. For those in a lawn, mulch a wide ring (extending at least 3 to 6 feet out from the trunk) around each plant.

Never pile mulch against tree trunks. The egregious practice is called a “volcano” and gives insects and disease a chance to harm tree trunks.

For flower beds, mulch can be applied up to 3 inches deep (after settling) but should be kept pulled back slightly from plant stems. Mulches should thoroughly cover an area to a uniform depth to be most effective. Low or bare spots are prone to weed problems.

Can you use “compost” as a mulch? You can but a good layer of compost is just a wonderful seed bed for windblown weed seeds. Every seed that finds its way to exposed compost is sure to germinate and that works against you saving time and reducing weedy competition.

Mulches made from plant material are organic mulches. Over time, organic mulches will decompose and become part of the soil. This is a great advantage, because this decomposition adds organic matter to your soil, helping the soil to better retain water and nutrients- giving you healthier plants. This means, however, that organic mulches will have to be replenished from time to time.

Bark mulches are usually made from the by-products of pine, cypress, or hardwood logs. Bark mulches resist compaction, will not blow away, are very attractive, and are readily available.

Sawdust is often readily available but is a poor choice. It tends to cake, making it harder for water to soak into the ground. Additionally, sawdust is low in nitrogen, so it robs nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes.

Pine needles (also called pine straw) are attractive, decompose slowly, resist compaction, and are easy to work with. They are often available commercially or even free if you have pine trees on your property.

Three layers of newspaper can effectively keep down weeds, especially in the vegetable garden. To keep the paper from blowing away, weight it down using another mulch or other means.

Crushed stone, gravel, volcanic rock mulches are available in a wide variety of textures, colors, and materials and are used in rock gardens, driveways, and walkways. Think carefully and make sure you really want this type of mulch before putting it in place, because these mulches are permanent and will not build up your soil.

Certainly, the addition of an organic mulch will build soil and improve the ground that it covers. Those who practice a yearly addition of mulch will find earthworms and a dark crumbly soil develop beneath.

As we approach the historical hot, dry summer months, consider putting a layer of mulch to save water, reduce your weeding chores, keep soil cool, and build the soil.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu .

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