Types of mulch

Just about any chipped, shred­ded or nat­u­rally fine plant ma­te­rial works as a mulch, but some are bet­ter suited to par­tic­u­lar con­texts than oth­ers. Un­for­tu­nately, what­ever the type, find­ing a sup­plier usu­ally takes a bit of lo­cal search­ing or net­work­ing.

go! Platteland - - MULCH -

1 Clean wood chip

Neat in ap­pear­ance and long-last­ing, this is the mulch of choice for paths and traf­fic ar­eas. It works fine in beds and is per­fect for use around in­dige­nous plants. It won’t add nu­tri­ents and im­prove soil tex­ture as fast as mulch with green ma­te­rial. Over time it changes colour from brown to sil­very grey and it lasts many years, es­pe­cially if ap­plied thickly. It can be hard on bare feet com­pared with other op­tions. Usu­ally a sawmill by-prod­uct, it’s of­ten only avail­able in bulk – land­scap­ers and nurs­eries may know of sup­pli­ers. Make sure it’s made of un­treated wood.

3 Chipped whole branches

Chipped whole brances from tree felling and plot clear­ing is the per­fect allpur­pose mulch but can vary sig­nif­i­cantly in tex­ture and com­po­si­tion. The fine leafy con­tent rapidly breaks down to feed and build soil within a year, while the woody com­po­nent sticks around for longer and also con­tains more soil-build­ing nu­tri­ents than pure wood chip. Chipped wattle and other ni­tro­gen­fix­ing in­vaders are one of the best op­tions for veg gar­dens. Ask at tree-felling or bulk­com­post com­pa­nies. It used to be an un­wanted by-prod­uct and could eas­ily be had free of charge to save a trip to the dump, but these days it’s in high de­mand. Mu­nic­i­pal waste sites with gar­den refuse fa­cil­i­ties usu­ally have mulch avail­able for col­lec­tion at no cost or low prices, but it may con­tain weed seeds and lit­ter.

2 Nurs­ery mulch in bags

Wood chip, peach pips and pine bark are com­monly avail­able but it’s ex­pen­sive and has a big plas­tic-pack­ag­ing foot­print, so it’s not re­ally prac­ti­cal ex­cept for tiny gar­dens. Rather find a bulk sup­plier and mulch prop­erly. Fine mulch like rooi­bos-tea waste can be a su­perb op­tion for pots and con­tain­ers, though.

4 Gravel and rock

I’m not a fan of gravel as a land­scap­ing so­lu­tion or gar­den mulch. It does con­serve soil mois­ture but has to be laid on top of a non-biode­grade­able, non­re­cy­clable weed-and-soil barrier geo­tex­tile fab­ric and pre­vents any or­ganic soil build­ing be­low. Some­how, gravel al­ways ends up mixed in with soil and a once-pris­tine sur­face ac­cu­mu­lates soil and weeds, and stones spread shab­bily into ev­ery­thing.

Whereas plant-based mulch breaks down into rich hu­mus, old gravel con­trib­utes noth­ing to the soil and usu­ally makes a mess that’s hard to clean. Coarse rock or peb­bles with­out a geo­tex­tile barrier is much more sen­si­ble as a re­ally low-main­te­nance op­tion for side­walks, around es­tab­lished trees and suc­cu­lent gar­dens or as a land­scap­ing fea­ture. Un­like gravel, rock mulch is easy to weed and gar­den around, and can be eas­ily re­moved.

Very fine stone can be a use­ful mulch for suc­cu­lent plants in pots that pre­fer soil with a low or­ganic con­tent, stop­ping pots from get­ting too hot and pre­vent­ing mois­ture loss.

5 Scavenged mulch

Neatly chipped mulch is lovely, but any fine plant ma­te­rial is ben­e­fi­cial as a soil cover. Of course, it’s im­por­tant to avoid im­port­ing weeds and un­de­sir­able grasses that have al­ready made seed heads. Be es­pe­cially care­ful in late spring to sum­mer. But there’s a sur­pris­ing amount of clean, weed-free prime mulch be­ing thrown away in sub­urbs, verges and parks ev­ery­where. I keep a few empty feed sacks in my car, and fill up on any of these when I find them: • Pine nee­dles – they won’t make your soil acidic un­less ap­plied for years. • Grass cut­tings and waste straw or hay Long weed-free cut grass doesn’t last long but is a great soil builder. Mowed lawn clip­pings are usu­ally not rec­om­mended as mulch as they can mat and pre­vent wa­ter pen­e­tra­tion, but are fine scat­tered quite thinly. • Fallen leaves have a ten­dency to blow around and mat, but that can be pre­vented by mix­ing them with coarser mulch, shred­ding them coarsely, or just putting them loosely in a shel­tered spot where they won’t be walked on. • Tree-stump re­moval by grind­ing ma­chines pro­duces fine and soft shred­ded wood. Its low ini­tial soil-nu­tri­ent value means it’s not a great idea for veg­eta­bles or soil that needs rapid im­prov­ing, but it makes a great weed-sup­press­ing ground cover or soft path.

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