Organic Mulching

Mulching is a protective material applied to the surface of the soil for the conservation of moisture to improve the health of soil and fertility, reducing weed growth and enhancing the visual appeal of the area. It is a simple and most beneficial practice that can be used in gardens. If prepared well it can easily be spread on the soil.

Mulches can either be organic or inorganic. Organic mulches such as straw, bark chips, and similar materials while inorganic mulches include stones, brick chips, and plastic. Both organic and inorganic mulches have numerous benefits but here we will discuss organic mulches.

Benefits of Organic Mulches

  • It protects soil from erosion
  • Reduces compaction from the impact of heavy rains
  • Conserves moisture
  • Reduces the need for frequent watering
  • Maintains more even soil temperature
  • Prevents weed growth
  • Keeps fruits and vegetables clean
  • Provides a finished look to the gardens
  • Improves the condition of the soil as these mulches slowly decompose
  • Provides organic matter to the soil
  • Improves root growth
  • Increases infiltration of water and also increases the water-holding capacity of soil
  • Inorganic mulches in contrast to organic mulches may be difficult to remove because of their permanence

Mulch Material


MaterialAmount to applyNotes
Bark Mulch2-4 inchesIt is easy to spread smaller chips, especially around small plants. It can be effectively used around trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens. While spreading mulch around trees, keep the mulch 1-2 inches away from the trunk.
Wood chips2-4 inchesIt is similar to bark mulch. Using fresh wood chips mixed with a lot of leaves may facilitate composting
Leaves3-4 inchesLeaves are best to chop and compost before spreading, If using dry leaves, apply about 6 inches.
Grass clippings2-3 inchesThe thicker layer tends to compact and rot becoming quite slimy and smelly. Add additional layers as clippings decompose. Do not use clippings from lawns treated with herbicides.
Newspaper1/4 inchesApply sheets of newspaper and cover tightly with grass clippings or other mulch material to anchor. If another mulching material is not available, cover the newspaper edges with soil. Applying on a windy day may be a problem.
Compost3-4 inchesCompost is an excellent material for enriching the soil

When to apply mulch?

The time of application depends on what you want to get from mulching. Mulches applied as an insulating barrier between the soil and the plant moderate the soil temperature, which means that the mulched soil in the summer will be cooler than adjacent non mulched soil while in the winter the mulched soil may not freeze as deeply because mulch acts as an insulating layer. It is best to apply mulch after the soil has warmed up in spring. Cool wet soil tends to slow down germination and increase the decay of seeds and seedlings. In adding additional layers to the existing perennial beds, wait until the soil has warmed up completely. Applying mulch before the ground has frozen may attract rodents looking for a warm overwintering site. The late application of mulch should prevent this problem hopefully creature would already have found to nest. One of the benefits of winter application of mulches is the reduction of freezing and thawing of the soil in late winter and early spring. These repeated cycles of freezing at night and then thawing in the warmth of the sun cause many small and shallow-rooted plants to be removed from the soil. This can cause their root system to be completely exposed and results in injury or death. Mulching helps to reduce the rapid variation in soil temperature.

How to Apply Mulch

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What do I hope to achieve by mulching? Whether it is for weed control, Moisture retention, soil improvement, or beautification?
  • How large is the area to be mulched?
  • How much mulch you will need to cover the area?
  • Determine what mulch material you want to use and purchase or gather what you need.

Collect the leaves in the chop with a lawnmower or shredder. If we use whole leaves as a mulch, it will compact if wet or blow away if dry. Chopping will reduce the volume and facilitate composting. Freshly chopped leaves may disturb the normal growth of certain crops therefore it may be advisable to compost leaves over winter before spreading them. The amount of mulch to apply will be determined by the material you are using.

General Guidelines about mulching

  • Avoid applying mulch directly in contact with plants.
  • Leave an inch or so of a space next to plants to help prevent diseases from flourishing from excessive humidity.
  • Remove weeds before applying mulch.

What is mulching?

Mulching is a protective material applied to the surface of the soil for the conservation of moisture to improve the health of soil and fertility, reducing weed growth and enhancing the visual appeal of the area.

What is the best time for applying mulch?

The time of application depends on what you want to get from mulching. For example, mulches applied as an insulating barrier between the soil and the plant moderate the soil temperature, so such mulch will have different applications for summer and winters.

What are the benefits of mulching?

It protects soil from erosion
Reduces compaction from the impact of heavy rains
Conserves moisture
Reduces the need for frequent watering
Maintains more even soil temperature
Prevents weed growth
Keeps fruits and vegetables clean

Huma Zafar
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I am Huma Zafar a Soil Science Graduate from Arid Agriculture University. I am interested in topics related to agronomy, agri-tech and climate change.