Pros and Cons of Mulching

Should you turn that weedy garden patch into a permanent mulched garden? Well, there are  plenty of pros for doing just that but also some cons.

Most years moisture is a concern, and mulch prevents a garden from drying out. Not only does it slow evaporation, it traps rainwater, allowing it to soak in.  At the same time, it prevents soil erosion, not only from rain runoff, but from
wind as well.

After a rain, you can walk in your mulched garden without getting muddy, and you can pick clean vegetables because the mulch keeps dirt from splashing up on them. In fact, there’s often no reason to wash them except to remove a few
insects.

A thick layer of mulch will prevent most weeds from growing, allowing you to spend less time weeding. Or you can throw more mulch on top of any weeds that get started. You can also turn weedy mulch over, if the weeds haven’t rooted in the ground.

In summer, mulch keeps the ground cool. Put your hand on black, exposed soil on a hot day, and you’ll wonder how plants survive at all. In winter, it protects fall-seeded plants or sensitive perennials from extremely cold temperatures.

A permanent mulch means no-tilling your garden, and this is good. Even though you can’t see most of it, your soil is full of earthworms, bacteria, fungi, and all kinds of microscopic organisms that help your plants get the nutrients they need. When you till, the surface organisms are buried, threads of fungi are broken, and earthworm tunnels and root paths that help move water are destroyed. Also destroyed are clumps that allow air spaces in the soil, depriving these organisms and your plants of  oxygen.

Mulch helps feed soil organisms. Earthworms move organic matter from the surface down to the roots, feeding bacteria and fungi, which in turn give nutrients to your plants. Some soil organisms can even prevent plant diseases and help them resist insect damage, all reasons to protect them.

After considering the pros of mulching, think of the cons. One is the unwieldiness of planting. To plant a row, you must first pull back the mulch with a hoe or rake and then make your row. After planting and covering your seed, you put a small amount of mulch back over the row. This process can  be
tedious and time-consuming and draws out the planting process to a week or more instead of a day or two. Putting out bedding plants is not an issue, as you simply make a hole the same as you would without mulch.

Hay mulch can have seed and cause a good stand of grass to start in your garden. You can add more mulch or you can turn it over. Creeping jenny grows through the thickest mulch, cannot be weeded out by the roots, and needs persistence to control it. But to be fair, creeping jenny grows in unmulched gardens as well.

So do the pros win or the cons?

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