Do you have chores to do around the house? When summertime rolls around, many kids find themselves enlisted to help keep the great outdoors right outside their doors under control. This often takes the form of mowing the grass and weeding the flower beds.
If you've ever helped with lawn or garden work, there's another chore you've probably helped with at one time or another. It usually involves a shovel, a rake, and lots of wood chips or similar material. What are we talking about? Mulch, that is!
Mulch is a layer of usually organic material covering the surface of an area of soil, such as around plants or the bases of trees and bushes. Mulch can consist of many different types of materials, including wood chips, bark, grass clippings, manure, compost, leaves, straw, sawdust, hay, newspaper, cardboard, and wool.
Mulching the soil around plants has many positive benefits. For example, mulch helps to conserve moisture by holding more water close to plant roots. Mulch also provides an insulating effect, protecting against extreme temperature swings. Finally, mulch reduces the growth of weeds and enhances the beauty of the landscape.
These benefits can also be provided by non-organic mulching materials, such as recycled rubber pellets, plastic sheeting, and gravel. Most people tend to choose organic materials, though, because they're more economical and often available in their own yard already.
If you don't have sufficient leaves, bark, wood chips, or grass clippings, you can buy mulch at local gardening centers and home improvement stores. Whether you buy large bags of mulch or haul a truckload to your garden, you'll find a wide variety of mulches available at most stores that cater to gardeners.
If you've never mulched your plants before, you might think it's a new development in gardening technology. Mulch has been around as long as plants themselves, though. Since the first trees grew on Earth, their leaves and needles have fallen to the ground as natural mulch, creating a protective barrier for the soil.
Have you ever walked off the trail in a forest? That soft, cushioned feeling under your feet when you walk is the result of layer upon layer of natural mulch that accumulates over time. As one layer decays, another layer is added year after year.
The word "mulch" itself probably comes from the German word molsch, which refers to something soft that is starting to decay. As long as people have worked the soils of the Earth, mulching materials have been used to protect the roots of newly-planted shrubs, trees, and plants.
Gardeners learned early on that a layer of mulch around the base of plants in the summer would keep the roots cool, well-moisturized, and free of weeds. Likewise, in winter, a layer of mulch keeps roots warmer and helps to prevent soil erosion in harsh weather. Over time, consistent use of mulch improves soil structure and its overall fertility.