Most of you may have read or heard that during last week’s regular monthly Commissioners Court meeting the commissioners waived the fees for mulch and compost at the Transfer Station (or Landfill). Wow, what a great deal. We are so lucky to have that service available to us, whether the fee is temporally waived or we have to pay a small fee, and I encourage each and every one of you to take full advantage of this service. That being fresh on my mind gave me the idea for this week’s article, Mulches - An Easy Way to Reduce Work and Water Use.

Mulching is one of the most commonly used and best management practices for homeowners in maintaining flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. The use of mulch can be helpful in reducing the need for weeding, conserving moisture, improving soil quality, and improving the looks of your landscape. You receive all of these benefits simply by mimicking Mother Nature’s use of dead plant material.

If you have ever walked through an area of thick trees, you probably noticed lots of leaves and twigs piled up. And generally underneath the mat of material it is wet and very few weeds are germinating. It is exactly this concept that we are implementing when we apply mulches to our landscape. The first thing to remember about mulch is that it can be any dead plant material. Organic materials such as dead leaves, twigs, grass clippings and shredded trees all make excellent mulches.

The first and most common use of mulch is to conserve water. Mulch insulates and protects the soil from drying out and baking in the sun’s heat. Mulch allows the soil to have less fluctuation in temperature and gives the plants roots a more favorable growing environment. During the hot part of the summer non mulched bare soil often becomes caked over and can reach temperatures of around 120_F. At this rate it doesn’t take very long for soil moisture to be depleted.

The second use of mulch is to improve the soil quality. Mulch helps improve soil quality by breaking the force of rain and irrigation on the soil thereby preventing erosion, crusting, and soil compaction. In addition, when using organic mulch microbes in the soil, beneficial insects will break down the material supplying the plants with nutrients and soil microbes with energy so that the uses of commercial fertilizers are more efficient.

Finally, mulches help prevent weeds from germinating and taking over your landscape. The use of mulches to control weeds is safer than using herbicides and often less expensive in the long run. Mulch decreases the amount of light that is available to the seed and prevents germination while at the same time adding beauty to the landscape.

While the use of mulch is great, they must be managed properly. Just as the mulch prevented moisture evaporation from the soil, they can prevent moisture from getting to the soil if they are applied too heavily. When applying mulches you usually want to put a layer of mulch from 2 to 6 inches deep. Coarser mulch such as thick pine bark is applied more thickly than fine mulch like grass clippings. Around trees and shrubs four inches of loose fibrous material generally works well. Apply the mulch in a donut fashion around the plant allowing the plant to be the hole in the donut. Finally, it is a good idea to lay soaker hoses or drip irrigation down with the mulch on top of the hoses. This allows you to water the plant without having to soak through the mulch layer.

The use of mulch in your yard is not a miracle cure for all you weed and water problems. However, rather than spending weekend after weekend pulling weeds and watering, it can give you one or two free weekends to go fishing and have a beautiful yard.

For more information on landscape maintenance you may contact the Somervell County Extension office at (254) 897-2809.