As we move into the growing season, it’s time to make plans for planting and maintaining your yard and gardens. An important consideration for most landscapes is the mulching of beds. Mulch helps soils hold on to moisture, prevents weed seeds from germinating, and amends/improves the soil from the top down. There are many reasons to add a layer of mulch to your beds, but there are also several myths and misunderstandings about this practice. This post addresses six of the most common myths about mulch.
1. Myth: Mulch robs the soil of nitrogen. Since organic mulching materials are high in carbon, if they are turned into the soil they use nitrogen as they decompose. But this is only the case for mulch that’s mixed into the soil, not what is on the surface of the ground. You don’t have to worry about mulch taking nitrogen from the soil if it’s just on the top of your gardens.
2. Myth: Pine needs make soil acidic. This thought probably came about because we have naturally acidic soils in the northeast, and we also have many pine trees. But the truth is that pine needles do not acidify soils. You can use pine needles as mulch without worrying that it will alter the pH of your soil. In fact, pine needles make a great mulch, especially in vegetable gardens.
3. Myth: A thick layer of mulch is better. There are many times when we know that more is not better…in fact, more can be worse than doing nothing. This is certainly true for mulch. Plants roots need air as well as dirt and moisture, and too much mulch can deny them the flow of air they need. A heavy layer of mulch can also absorb all the rain or irrigation water so that none of it reaches the root zone where it’s needed. Applying an inch or two of mulch in the spring is best.
4. Myth: You have to remove old mulch before fertilizing or spreading compost. If you’re going to amend your gardens with a layer of compost, spread it over the old mulch in the fall or spring before you add the new layer of mulching material. If you want to spread a granular, organic fertilizer in the spring or early summer, and your new layer of mulch has already be spread, don’t worry – you can scatter that fertilizer right over the mulch.
5. Myth: Mulch should be mounded around a tree trunk. This is known as “volcano mulching” and it kills trees. You may still see people doing this, but do not think that it’s the right way to mulch around any plant. In general, keep all mulching materials away from stems and trunks.
6. Myth: Vegetable gardens don’t need to be mulched. The mulching of vegetable gardens is an individual choice, but there are many advantages to doing so. Mulch helps keep soil evenly moist, and this prevents things like blossom end rot on tomatoes. Mulch can also keep produce such as zucchini off of the dirt, which assists in preventing the rotting of developing squash. And mulching helps prevent the germination of weed seeds, so you’ll spend less time pulling weeds out of your veggie garden.
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