Marco Bitran: Seasons of Mulch


Mulch is the hallmark of quality soil. In nature, this ground cover serves as a natural source of moisture retention, while it is used to protect topsoil, prevent weed growth, and even conserve water in landscaping projects. According to most experts, while organic ground cover can break apart your soil and increase its fertility, there are still certain times of the year when mulching is most effective.


Mulching in the spring is arguably the best, and most important, time. Soil will likely still be cold from the winter months, but spring is the opportune time to begin protecting soil moisture. Periodically mulching in mid-to-late spring allows the soil a chance to warm while also allowing it to retain some of the winter’s moisture. But don’t pile on too much; seedlings-such as those planted in the spring like tomatoes, melons, lilies, and daises-often cannot penetrate a thick ground covering.


Greater topsoil coverage in the summer months will help retain moisture even in the sweltering heat, slowing the impact of evaporation. Mulch can help regulate soil temperature, so during the hottest months it is imperative to make sure the soil remains moist underneath its blanket. While retaining moisture is certainly a priority, summer mulches can also be helpful in preventing weed growth during the time when it tends to be worst.


While mulch helps break down the materials in soil, over time it also breaks down itself. This will most likely happen in the fall, when the warmth of summer has dried the groundcover and the earth below has soaked up the majority of the nutrients. Ideally, this layer should be no deeper than four inches. An additional benefit to fall mulches, which consist of wood chips or comparable material, is that they give you an opportunity to walk around in your garden without sinking in mud. Think of it as an organic doormat or carpet.


More mulch in the winter months will help insulate the soil from the cold, which can help to prevent root damage by making soil less susceptible to freezing and thawing. For areas that are affected by runoff, such as slopes or spots that are prone to flooding or water buildup, use a thicker or denser mulch. Don’t get caught waiting for inclement weather to set in, however; it is necessary to begin mulching in the late fall, as opposed to waiting until the dead of winter, when rain and snow become harder to manage. Finally, as the winter progresses, gradually pull the groundcover away.

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