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  • Ellen Mary

My Mulch Experiment

Mulching is an important aspect of gardening and healthy soils. Ultimately it means healthy plants. Mulch is used to save water, suppress weeds and improve the soil but it also helps to keep weeds down and a tidy garden - it can even deter slugs and snails depending on what mulch you use. It's extremely advantageous to the garden as long as the mulch is organic and adds nutrients as it decomposes. So, why didn't I mulch this year?

Firstly, what is mulch?

Mulch is basically any material spread onto the surface of soil with the intention of retaining moisture, feeding the soil, suppressing weeds, regulating temperature and even preventing erosion. If you have lots of bare soil, it's not particularly attractive but it also means plant roots will suffer from the heat and need more water. Plus, as is always mentioned when discussing mulch - it suppresses weeds. Mulch includes woodchip, home made compost, plant based compost, manure, straw and hay, bark, grass clippings and many more.

Why I didn't mulch.

Mostly because I really like to experiment in the garden. I like to test the science before my very eyes! Every year I try something different. That could be new plants or methods, different types of mulches or for this year - none at at all. I garden veganic and no dig so my allotment is mulched every year with homemade compost and a plant based top dressing. I have done this with quite a thick covering for 4 years to improve the sandy soil I garden on. It has worked an absolute treat and in the heatwave of 2022, I watered far less than my allotment neighbours and had far fewer weeds. However, I had to mulch a big space in just a few hours as I was going away and it really hurt my back - in fact it took three months to get better!

So I decided that after 4 years of a good mulch that the soil is in such good condition, my back and the garden could do with a year off. I was quietly confident that even in a heatwave I would still need to water less and with the absence of almost all weeds in the cultivated beds, my plot couldn't possible get too out of control - could it!?

Do I regret not mulching?

No. And yes! I will always remember 2023 as the year of the weeds. I still don't have as many weeds as some other plots but I have more than I've had in years including a huge covering of Oxalis corniculata (creeping wood sorrel) which is growing rapidly in abundance, Convolvulus arvensis (field bindweed) which is a little easier to control than the common bindweed currently suffocating the hedgerow at the back of the plot, along with lots of other 'weeds' that have thrived without mulch. I am very much of the opinion that weeds are just plants growing where you don't want them which is mainly in cultivated beds, so I am pretty relaxed about them, especially in spring when the plot is filled with Lamium purpureum (red dead nettle) Galium aparine (cleavers) and Taraxacum officinale (common dandelion) to help early pollinators. But, during a June heatwave as plants are becoming better established and the weeds are competing with the plants - I regret not mulching.

I have always been an advocate for no dig gardening since I first trialled it some years ago and the mulching over the years has improved my soil no end. It has helped to provide me with an abundance of healthy, tasty crops and cut flowers and it also meant I had barely any weeds to deal with. So, for this year as my main task is weeding and watering every time I am at the plot, I remind myself why I experiment. Mulching helps suppress weeds and retain moisture and it really does work. I remind myself that this is why I experiment.

Will I mulch again this Autumn?

Yes. End of experiment!


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