To mulch or not to mulch? This sounds like a strange question, since mulch is a strange sounding word. It sounds like a bad thing that a pest might do to your garden. It’s actually a smart gardening technique with many benefits.

Since mulching involves placing a protective layer over garden soil, there is an aesthetic concern, especially when gardeners start talking plastic, lawn clippings and other less than attractive mulching materials.

Plastic and lawn clippings do make excellent mulches, but frankly there are many materials such as redwood and cedar bark, and bark chips that look natural and nice, and will have a very positive effect on your plants.

The best understood benefit of mulching is that it conserves moisture in the soil and prevents plants from drying out. What may be less recognized is that this moisture effect stabilizes soil temperatures (important during summer and winter), and helps prevent water runoff, which not only saves water but also keeps fertilizers out of our creeks and bay. Oh yes, mulching helps a gardener cut down on watering chores, too.

Weed control is a less recognized benefit of mulching, but one that can quickly transform a novice gardener into a diehard mulching advocate. By covering the soil with mulch, you seriously inhibit anything from growing (that has not already been planted) by cutting out light to the soil below. Weeds can and will pop through a layer of mulch, but with far less frequency, and with rich soil under the mulch, they can be plucked out of the garden with ease.

Some mulches take mulching to a new level by adding 15% chicken manure to a base of forest bark. These products increase the natural bacterial action in soil, adds nutrients, and helps break down the hard clay-like soils found in most Foothill gardens.

While you can count on mulching to be very good for your plants, you can also count on mulching to be very good for you! You’ll spend significantly less time watering and weeding. Mulching is easy and even intuitive for most gardeners. Depending on your choice of mulch, a 1/2-inch to 2 inch covering depth is what’s needed. To apply Forest Mulch, for example, you simply spread it around with a rake or by hand. A 2-cubic foot bag covers 24 square feet to a depth of 1 inch. Give your plants a little breathing room by keeping the mulch about six inches away from stems and trunks. For cedar and redwood barks, placement is the same. If you plan to use bark on a path, walkway or driveway, use smaller barks which are easier to walk on.

Mulching is a must for all of your plants that are heavy water users: roses, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, vegetables and more! Watering, weeding and even feeding in your garden, and more time enjoying it!