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April 2016
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What is mulching and what are some of the advantages ?

Got a lot of weeds and don’t know what to do, but worried that these weeds are taking away the nutrients that your regular plants may be needing (and this is not being paranoid, some weeds grow must faster than the plants you desire, and hence the nutrients that you weeds are sucking up are those that your plant is not getting).
Also, with all the effort needed to remove weeds, is all the bending affecting your back ? Are you spending more time at just removing weeds rather than on efforts to enrichen your garden ?
Been told that you need to make your soil more organic rich, more porous and make the water drainage better ? Don’t know how to do it ?
Living in a hot environment, with the sun scorching your plants and the soil ? The direct heat of the sun can take away all the water in the soil that you added only a few hours back. How do you ensure that the water in the potting mix remains for longer, lasts till the next watering. The soil drying up is back for the microbes and insects in your soil, and soil that is getting dry too often means that your roots are suffering from shock, as well as the fact that your plant is trying to just survive rather than focus on growing.
You have a lot of leaves and other stuff that is being pruned or cut or otherwise dropping in your garden, and you are wondering about how to dispose of all the material (can make compost, but that is also effort). How about so any grass clippings, what do you do with those ?

If you feel affected by one or some of these factors (or for those who really really need it, you are affected by all these factors), something that you should really be considering is mulching. Even though the word sounds a bit strange, many gardeners know it and those that know it and have used it, swear by it.
So what is mulching. Well, to be as uncomplicated as possible, mulching is the laying of a material over the soil, in multiple layers. Let me take the best possible example. You have a lot of dry leaves, and are living in a area with a hot summer. The soil in your pot dries up during mid-afternoon from the morning soaking and the leaves start wearing a droopy look. This heating of the soil worries you, since it can affect the roots, it can affect the microbes in the soil as well as harm useful creatures such as earthworms. So what do you do ? You take those dry leaves, take them to your pot, and cover the soil surface with a layer that is around 2-4 inches thick (after a one time removal of the weeds that are present there). This may seem a bit weird to you, and I have come across people who look at the planter and mention that they like the pots to be neat and clean, “Why am I so lazy as to not remove the leaves from the surface of the soil”. I look pityingly at them (after all, I believe I have done something great), and wonder whether it is worth the while to explain to the person.

Anyhow, continuing with the explanation – when you have added so many dry leaves to the soil, look at the factors outlined above and start ticking wherever you see it as relevant.
– Adding dry leaves on the soil ensures a surface that is not comfortable for the weeds to grow (since there is a layer above the heads of the growing weed plant).
– Reduced number of weeds, and hence you have more time to spend on the gardening enrichment experience.
– These leaves will eventually decompose and all this decomposition will go directly into the soil, making it richer and also more porous. All this is useful compost for the soil and for the plant. It is also a slow dispersal compost, that acts over an extended period of time.
– In hot weather, this layer of leaves helps reduce the temperature of the soil by a few degrees, incredibly helping the plant. This layer on top also ensures that soil does not dry so easily, which is an incredible help to the plant. In hot areas when you combine this tactic with shade nets and others, this ensures that you are reducing the harmful impact of the heat on your plants.
– Mulching using organic waste ensures that you have a ready use for all this organic waste. Suppose you have done a lot of pruning and have many leaves and thin branches, you can use these for mulching. It would not be wise to use thicker, woodier branches for mulching, but the thinner ones that are more green can be used.

However, when spreading the organic waste for mulching, ensure that you leave a bit of space around the plant stem (say 1-2 inches), since decaying organic material can cause rotting of the stem.

In the next post, will explore another issue related to mulching (TBD).

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