Mulch is a ground covering commonly used in landscaping and gardening to help save water, control weeds and control erosion. Mulch can be organic or inorganic. Examples of inorganic mulch are rocks or landscape fabric. Organic mulches are more popular as they can also be used to add nutrients to the soil and can be less expensive. Creating your own mulch can be done with a few simple steps according to the materials available. Possible materials include leaves, pine needles, grass clippings and compost.
Many trees lose their leaves in the fall and this presents an opportunity for any homeowner. Collect these leaves and use them as mulch around the garden or yard as desired. If using the leaves immediately they should be shredded to encourage decomposition and prevent forming a mat of material. A mat of leaves will prevent water from reaching the soil. Of course these leaves are usually available in the fall, not necessarily the most useful time for mulch. After collecting leaves they can be placed in a compost bin or a wire enclosure to be used in the spring. Do not store in plastic bags as they will begin to break down over the winter and the heat from this decomposition can melt the bags. Add any other organic items that are raked up with the leaves including bark and grass. This will just add to the nutrients in the leaves.
Pine needles can frequently be gathered in the spring and spread immediately as mulch over flower beds and garden areas. Some plants such as blueberries will actually grow better with pine mulch as the nutrients change the acid level of the soil. Don’t place pine needles against a wooden fence or other structure as they can be a fire hazard.
Creating compost to use as mulch requires some time to allow the organic elements to change. Compost bins are available commercially from many different hardware and home improvement sources. An alternative is to build one of your own. Using chicken wire to enclose an area that is three feet square and at least three feet high will provide enough room for adding leaves in the fall and kitchen scraps throughout the entire year. It is recommended to place grass clippings in a composter and allow them to partially decompose before using as mulch. The grass will actually pull nitrogen out of the soil as it decomposes and this can create a nutrient deficiency for the plants trying to grow in the area. Allowing the grass to partially decompose will eliminate this problem. The most efficient mixture of organic materials is equal parts green and brown organics. Green organics include kitchen scraps and grass clippings. Brown organics are leaves.
It is not necessary to allow organic materials to completely decompose into compost before using as mulch. Compost needs oxygen to complete the process and most gardeners ‘turn’ their compost at least once a month. During this process some of the material can be removed and used as mulch. The rest can continue its process to becoming nutrient rich compost.
Mulch is a great product reduces water loss and erosion. It also increases the nutrients in the soil and thus reduces the need for fertilizer use. Making your own mulch will reduce the need for purchasing commercial products while improving the impact on the local environment.