The benefits of mulching

In a society where water conservation is of utmost importance, water wise gardening greatly contributes to protecting our precious and scarce resources.

Mulching your garden reduces the evaporation of moisture from your soil. During Winter this will assist with regulating the temperature of your plant roots, keeping them snug and warm.  The roots are also kept cool during Summer.  Soil compacting, erosion and run-off will be prevented.  Furthermore, using an organic mulch will add organic nutrients, improvement to the soil structure and the prevention of topsoil loss.

There are various mulching options available.  Bark nuggets and chips are an excellent option which offers great insulation and moisture retention.  These have a slower decomposition rate and you will only need to replace it between 2 – 4 years. Macadamia nut shells are aesthetically pleasing but can be quite slippery if used on pathways. It has very good water penetration and moisture retention. There are a wide variety of water wise ground covers for both sun and shade. When these green ground covers are well established, they are attractive in garden beds.  It is important to note that certain vigorous growers need to be controlled. Good options to use as a "living mulch" are our native small succulents like Mesembryanthemum and the ice plant species. Using a more permanent mulch like pebbles and gravel, would lend a more contemporary and attractive look to your garden.  Take note that lighter stone would reflect heat whereas the darker stone retains a lot more heat.  Use these for plants that like hot and sunny positions.  Succulents and other water wise plants will benefit from this.  A very attractive alternative to use is peach pips.  These are readily available and provide good insulation and weed control.  This is a cost effective and water wise option.  Wood mulch is a good option with a moderate cost effect.  It has relatively slow decomposition and is effective in weed control.  A feeding mulch such as natural compost adds nutrients to the soil.  Equally good for moisture retention and weed control, it is the most economical option and can be produced in your own back garden.  It is important however, to ensure that your composting material are disease and weed free.  Compost mulch should be replaced annually. 

Take note not to apply a too thick layer of mulch.  Mulch layers exceeding 10cm will absorb too much water, preventing it from reaching the soil.  Roots might then grow into the mulch layer and not into the soil.  Finer material should be laid in a thinner layer.  Prepare your garden beds by removing all weeds and watering it properly before laying the mulch.  Once your organic mulch has decomposed you can simply add a layer on top, providing that the decomposing layer is not too thick. Take care to avoid uneven heaps around stems, trees and small plants.  This could attract pests and diseases causing rotting at the bases of stems.

About the Author

Michele Fourie is the Seeds for Africa General Manager. Michele loves growing beautiful flowers, chilli plants and is passionate about exceptional customer. service. Michele is also a fundi in the kitchen and loves creating dishes and preserves from fresh produce.