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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Mulches

Leaf Mulch or Leaf Mould

Leaves deposited by deciduous trees in Autumn will mulch soil for you and they will slowly break down to provide organic matter and nutrients to your soil. Leaves do provide the best benefit when composted however.

Pros:

Use layers no thicker than 8 cm (3 ").

Grass clippings as mulch

Pros:

Cons:

Use layers no thicker than 2 cm (1 "). You can add additional layers however, every couple of weeks.

Ground Cover Plants as Mulch

Plants can be used as mulch as well - these mulches are usually referred to as living mulches. Cover crops can also be used as living mulches.

Pros:

cons:

Living ground covers can be selected to match your garden. Native ground covers can be selected for native gardens. Pumpkins and other squashes are particularly good in edible garden beds. Lucerne is great in orchards. Living ground covers are perhaps the most versatile mulches available.

Newspaper as Mulch

Newspaper should always be covered with another form of mulch such as grass clippings

pros:

cons:

Use no more than 2 or 3 layers of newspaper with up to 8 cm (3") of another mulch of your choice on top.

Make sure the newspaper is thoroughly moistened before you lay the other mulch and don't allow it to dry out - poking holes in the newspaper for improved water permeability is advisable.

Pine Needles as Mulch

pros:

cons:

Use layers no thicker than 8 cm or 3 ".

Compost as Mulch

pros:

cons:

If using compost as mulch, it's often better to use it underneath another type of mulch.

Use layers no thicker than 8 cm (3 ").

Sawdust as Mulch

pros:

cons:

Never use sawdust from treated pine - it contains toxins and carcinogens.

Never use layers more than 8 cm (3 ") thick.

Aging sawdust for a year can help neutralise it.

Rubber mulch

This is usually made from recycled tyres etc.

pros:

cons:

Use this mulch in layers up to 10 cm (4 ") thick.

It's good on paths and around children's play equipment and garden swings etc. however I wouldn't recommend it on garden beds.

Pebbles, Rocks and Stones etc. as Mulch

Pros:

Cons:

Apply in layers up to 10 cm (4 ") thick.

These are good mulches to use in rock gardens.

Landscaping fabric/ weed mat etc.

pros:

cons:

Black Plastic as Mulch

pros:

cons:

I would never recommend using black plastic as a mulch but it can be done.

Bark, Wood Chips etc. as Mulch

pros:

cons:

Adding compost before such mulches will greatly improve their affects and will also provide nitrogen for the bacteria that break down the mulch.

Use 10 cm (4 ") layers.

Straw as Mulch

NB Hay (other than lucerne hay) contains far more weed seeds than straw so is best composted before use as mulch. Though you can use it in the same manner as straw if you want.

Pros:

Cons:

If you have chickens, their bedding straw is a better source of mulch as the chickens will gobble up any seeds still in there and will add nitrogen in the form of manure.

Use 10 cm (4 ") layers.

Lucerne Hay, Pea Straw etc.

Pros:

Cons:

The good news is you can grow your own lucerne and slash it for mulch - you can also use your pea plants once they've finished producing peas. The same can be done with bean plants.

Use layers 10 cm (4 ") thick.

These mulches are particularly useful for plants that are heavy feeders.

A Couple of Interesting Mulches you can Use

Dandelion leaves: yes they're a weed but if you already have them in your garden and have trouble getting rid of them, at least you can use the leaves as a mulch or liquid fertiliser (make tea with them). Dandelions are deep rooted, which is why they are hard to remove but it also means they bring up leached nutrients so the leaves are packed full of goodies for your garden.

Dock leaves: same deal - they're a weed but are deep rooted so if you already have them, you can use the leaves as a mulch to benefit your soil.

Just don't let either of these go to seed otherwise your weed problem will get worse!

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