Time To Mulch Your Garden!

With the warmer weather sneaking up on us and the constant issues of lack of rain and water restrictions it is time to consider mulching..

Long gone are the days where you would walk into a supplier and ask for mulch and all they could recommend was pine bark, pine bark or pine bark! While pine bark is still available in various sizes and even colours, there are plenty of alternatives that not only look great but also do a better job. At the gardens we use a variety of mulches for different purposes but for the home gardener one mulch can be used for the entire garden depending on personal choice and budget.

So why do we mulch? – Mulching is now considered a vital part of gardening in Australia not only for the fact of the obvious benefits of water retention and the ability to retard weed growth but also in its benefits to improving total soil structure.

With some of the poorest soils in the world they need all the help they can get and the use of organic mulches helps to improve soil structure by adding organic matter, protects the soil surface from compaction and crusting and regulates soil temperatures, which in turn encourages micro organisms and earthworms to breakdown organic matter and improve aeration.

This all leads to better plant development with healthier deeper root system and the ability to withstand the harsh Australian climate.
With so many mulches available these days it can be a little confusing on the appropriate mulch to use but here is a list of the mulches we use at Hunter Valley Gardens and what we consider to be the best:

• LUCERNE MULCH – An excellent fine mulch that mats together well and is very good for the soil. Lucerne is a legume plant which means it produces it’s own nitrogen so unlike bark mulches it gives nitrogen back to the soil. It also has high water retaining properties and is easy to apply. It can vary in colour from bag to bag but becomes uniform once exposed to the sun. It is a little more expensive than other mulches but the long term benefits of Lucerne generally out ways the cost and is considered one of the best mulches.

• PEASTRAW – Another excellent mulch with the texture of light straw. It is the remains of the pea plant after harvesting and is slightly coarser and a little dustier than Lucerne. You can get the odd pea plant popping up but is a little more economical than Lucerne.

• SUGARCANE - The left overs from sugar cane after processing, a great mulch due to the fact that the processing can remove many of the weed seeds that may be present. A pale greyish colour to it and is in larger strands than the other 2 mulches which can make it a little more difficult to apply around seedlings and smaller shrubs. It can be a little bit dusty and not as high in nutrient content but is economical mulch. It is also now available as certified organic mulch.

• TEATREE – Teatree mulch is a by-product from tea tree oil production and as in sugarcane it may be free from weeds. A dark and aromatic mulch, it is much longer lasting than the other mulches and has a more traditional appearance. Particle size will vary as it contains not only the leaves but also the stems of the tea tree. A mulch we find very economical at the gardens.

• PEBBLES – Many gardens these days are looking at the use of decorative pebbles as a substitute to the tradition mulches. They can make a dramatic statement in themselves and are available in a range of colours and sizes. The main draw back is the initial cost of the pebbles as they can be expensive but when you consider they never breakdown over the long term they do pay for themselves.

It is also worth reminding that you don’t necessarily have to purchase mulches and it is quite simple to make your own. Most areas now have green waste bins that councils kindly pick up for you every fortnight, take it to the tip, compost it down and sell it back to us as mulch! Nearly all the material that goes into green waste bins can be re- used and composted down for the use as mulch. All it takes is a compost bin and a bit of time and in a couple of months you have mulch.

While some organic mulches claim to be weed free, there is always the possibility of some weed growth in all organic mulches and this should be expected. It should also be noted that many of the organic mulches can contain dust particles and a dust mask should always be worn along with gloves and a long sleeve shirt.

Happy mulching!

Sean O’Brien
Horticultural Manager
Hunter Valley Gardens

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