Mulch: sunblock and repellant for plants

Carla Allen
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Part of my vacation last week was spent trundling wheelbarrows full of mulch around the gardens, shovelling it on top of a few layers of newspaper spread around the plants.

Mulch helps to retain water in the soil during these hot summer days.Carla Allen photo

The newspaper serves as a cheap form of landscape fabric, helping to slow down the establishment of weeds. It doesn’t prevent them, mind you. Nothing short of paving a garden will perform that miracle.

If ever your landscaping could use mulch, it’s now. I had a truckload delivered last month but am just getting it in place. The few inches of mulch over newspaper should keep weeds away for at least a few years. The shrubs, annuals and perennials will grow better with full access to any water and/or nutrients provided.

In addition to acting as a repellant for weeds, mulch serves as a sunblock of sorts. It provides a respite for roots from the scorching hot sun. Soil is less likely to be “baked” and moisture is retained longer.

Shredded bark mulch is readily available, affordable and organic. Plus it eventually breaks down to enrich the soil. The dark colour adds a finished look to any garden.

Other organic mulches for areas that don’t need to look attractive include straw, grass clippings or leaves. Landscape material can be used in larger shrub beds the same way I used newspaper, to extend the weed-free time frame that bark mulch on top can provide. Some people use rocks and gravel as mulch, but I’ve always been concerned about the amount of heat drawn to these materials and their effect on roots. Plus it’s more difficult to divide the plants or move them. 

Mulch can be bought by the bag or by the cubic yard. To find out how many yards you need multiply the length of your garden by the width, then multiply that number by the depth of your mulch (or inches is usually sufficient). Then divide that number by 24. That’s the number of cubic yards you will need to cover your garden. Confirm your calculations with your supplier just to be on the safe side.

I’ve had some people express concerns about mulch possibly attracting insects. In the two decades I’ve been applying it that hasn’t been my experience.

It’s a fundamental improvement you can make to your gardens and a fantastic timesaver when it comes to weeding

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