Mulch is imperative to the success of any organic garden. In general, mulch is a material that gardeners place on top of their soil to:
Although mulching your garden is always important, the most crucial reason for mulching in California is to create a barrier on the top of the soil to prevent water evaporation. There are many different kinds of mulch in the market, so you can match the type of mulch that you use to meet the specific needs of your garden. We’ll talk more about your options below.
Gardeners in locations with high seasonal temperature oscillations often mulch in late winter and early spring to warm the soil for their summer plants. As we mentioned, in our climate, we mulch mostly to retain moisture in the soil (up to 80% of the moisture in your topsoil can evaporate in the heat of a summer day!). Mulch acts as a barrier to absorb heat and prevent evaporation and cracking, thereby allowing you to water less often.
Mulch is also great for protecting soil during the winter. It can be placed in between any sparsely placed plants or empty spaces in your winter garden. It can keep soil warmer and protect it from erosion when the rains decide to return to California!
Mulch can be added around the base of plants that are at least 3-5 inches tall and have several true leaves. Leave an open circle around young seedlings, drawing it up to the stems when the plants have become tougher and established.
Avoid mulching over any smaller plants as it will prevent most young plants from breaking through to the sunlight, which is great for controlling weeds but terrible for your newly planted seed rows! Apply your mulch to a depth of 4-6 inches.
Materials such as compost, wood chips, or straw are the best mulch for beds in organic home gardens. Gravel and wood chips are best for mulching in between beds to keep weeds down. Some farms even use plastic as mulch to warm the soil and keep fruits off the ground (as do many large-scale strawberry farms) – in organic gardens we do not recommend it, as the plastic can leach chemicals into the soil and plastic is not environmentally friendly! There are many other options you can find for mulch, but these are our two most recommended options for a healthy (and pet-friendly!) organic garden:
Straw is an excellent material for summer mulching because it can keep the soil cooler and is easy to keep separate from your soil. When amending the soil or planting new seedlings, it can be easily pulled aside to expose the soil. You can find or order straw from a local farm, hardware, or garden supply store. Make sure you don’t get hay by mistake! Hay is full of seeds such as oats or wheat, which can quickly grow and make for a very weedy bed.
Wood chips are quite suitable mulch for your veggie beds. Its only downside is that its more difficult to keep it from mixing into your soil. If choose to use wood chips, make sure that the wood is organic and not treated with chemicals. We never use stained chips in our gardens, since the stain is created by the use of strong chemicals that can contaminate your veggies (and once the stain starts to fade, guess where that entire chemical goes to? You guessed it – right into your soil). Lastly, we also recommend avoiding dark colored chips (even the natural kind), as they will absorb heat and warm the soil significantly.
If you have any other questions on how, when or where to mulch your garden, get in touch with us at StartOrganic, and we’ll be happy to help you out!