Laughlin: Now it’s time to mulch
Now that you have selected that last bedding plant, vegetable transplant, tree or shrub for spring and have everything planted in just the right place in your landscape and gardens, the next step is to apply a nice layer of mulch.
We need to wait in the spring until the soil has warmed up and heavy spring rains have passed to mulch, so now is the perfect time.
There are many good reasons to add mulch. One of most gardeners' favorite reasons to add mulch is to reduce maintenance. A good mulch layer on a flower, vegetable or landscape bed will reduce your weeding efforts all summer long. Mulching acts like a barrier to smother weeds and cover weed seeds. You also get the added benefits of an attractive, finished look to the beds and mulching also makes movement through the garden easier when the soil is wet.
Mulching helps maintain and retain moisture by reducing evaporation from the soil, which will provide even moisture and less watering. Less watering will save time and money. During times of high temperatures (and you know they are coming) mulch will reflect heat back into the air, keeping your plants cooler.
Tests have shown that mulched soil can be as much as 30 degrees cooler than bare soil. Mulching also decreases runoff and soil erosion, as well as reduces fruit rot in the vegetable garden.
Another good reason to mulch is to recycle organic yard debris and prevent it from entering the landfills. Organic mulches are derived from natural materials such as grass clippings, straw, pine straw, wood chips or leaves. We can reduce yard waste that makes its way to landfills by using organic debris as mulch.
As organic materials decompose, they will slowly add nutrients to the soil. They are low-cost and increase soil quality as they decompose and also will help increase water infiltration.
Organic debris also can be made into compost. If you make your own compost, it works as a perfect organic mulch. You also can purchase bagged compost products or get it by the truckload from local materials companies or municipalities that have composting facilities and offer compost.
Tree limbs and branches can be chipped and used as mulch or put on pathways. Most wood chips also add an aesthetic quality to your gardens. Organic mulches that have a high carbon content, like wood chips, will use nitrogen during decomposition, and can result in nitrogen deficiency. This should not be a problem if you use the chips on top of the soil, not incorporated.
We generally want to add mulches to a depth of 2 to 3 inches around the plants. Apply coarse texture mulches (like straw) at a 3-inch depth and fine texture mulches (like compost) at a 2-inch depth. To prevent trunk rot when mulching under trees, avoid mounding the material at tree trunk bases by not placing any closer than 6 inches from the base of woody plants. You can mulch under trees, but leave a ring around the base un-mulched.
The OSU Extension Service offers great fact sheets on mulching (HLA 6005) and on backyard composting (HLA 6448) available at this website http://osufacts.okstate.edu.
Email Julia Laughlin, Oklahoma County Extension horticulture educator, at firstname.lastname@example.org .