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MulchMulch is any number of materials that can be placed in a thick layer over the surface of garden beds.

People tend to associate wood chips with mulch, as it is often used in landscaping and has a pleasant and familiar scent. While mulch has several benefits, its basic function is to prevent light from reaching seeds in the soil that would otherwise sprout as weeds. By creating a barrier to the soil, the seeds are unable to take root.

Additional benefits of mulch in your garden include the following:
  • Suppressing weeds
  • Retaining moisture of soil
  • Moderating soil temperatures --- especially helpful for shallow rooted plants such as onions
  • Protecting soil from erosion and damage from impact of heavy rain
  • Building the organic matter in soil using materials that may otherwise wind up in land fills.

Wood chips can be used on your garden's pathways, but consider the following types of mulch for your vegetable and flower gardens:

  • Straw is dried stalks of grain. It can be effective at suppressing weeds and be tilled into the garden bed at season's end to add organic matter to soil.  Because the stalks are often hollow they do not mat down the way hay or grass clippings often do. Straw is a great choice for vegetable beds (and of course, "strawberries").
  • Leaves that have been mowed and captured in the bagger can provide a nutrient-rich mulch.  They can be tilled into the garden in autumn to add organic matter to soil.  Chopping the leaves with the mower before putting them on the garden will keep the leaves from blowing away.
  • Pine needles can effectively suppress weeds, but are best used around acid-loving plants.  If your soil is alkaline pine needles can help bring the soil to a more balanced pH.  Unlike wood chips, pine needles can be collected without damage to the tree.
  • Black biodegradable mulching films are very effective weed suppressers and raise the temperature of soil.  This can give a boost to heat-loving plants and give them a head start on the season. The film can be rolled out and anchored on the sides with soil.  Cut an x where you want to place a seedling and set up your watering system.  At the end of the season, the film may be left in the garden to degrade over the winter months without adding toxins to the soil.
  • Newspaper can have the same weed suppressing qualities of black biodegradable film but does not aid in heating up the soil.  If using newspaper as mulch, wail until the soil warms up before applying it to the garden.  Newspaper can be a bit tricky to set in the garden;  pick a windless day and lay three to six layers of paper on the soil.  Lay another layer overlapping the edges slightly until you cover the bed.  When it is time to set the seedlings in place, push the mulch back a bit, cut an x, and plant the seedling.  Newspaper is more challenging to use than black biodegradable mulching film, but it is inexpensive, usually in ready supply, and an environmentally-friendly choice.  Make sure the newspaper you use is printed with black  inks only; colored ink is toxic for your garden.