Why mulch?

The mulched garden at Felbrigg

Different mulching materials have different advantages. Our Head Gardener explains the differences and why it is so important to mulch your garden.

 Using your own garden compost

 

This costs nothing; it’s a great way to recycle so it’s good for the environment as a whole. The compost heap is a flourishing and dynamic eco-system in itself which benefits and helps to attract all kinds of wild life, from insects to frogs, birds and hedgehogs, and it’s rich in nutrients to help feed your plants.

The potential down side is that if your heap hasn’t reached optimum composting temperatures not all weed seeds will have been destroyed, so it’s not going to help keep the weeds down! We supplement the use of our own garden compost with bought in mushroom compost.

 

Mushroom compost 

Ours comes straight from the factory so it’s sterilized, meaning no weeds! On a garden of our scale , that in itself is a huge bonus. Also we have a neutral to acid soil, most fruit and veg need calcium (lime) for the production of healthy crops. Mushroom compost has an alkaline ph. which means it’s got calcium in it, adding mushroom compost therefore saves us having to add calcium separately.
 
The down side of mushroom compost is that it adds no nutrients to feed the plants, so if you decide to use mushroom compost it’s important to remember to feed your plants with some chicken manure and seaweed meal, (or another form of fertilizer if you prefer, both, at the initial planting stage, and during the growing season. 
 

Horse manure

 
This is extremely good for the garden; it adds more than just the nutrients plants need for good growth, it also adds lots of beneficial micro-organisms both for healthy plants and soil. When you buy in horse manure, its essential to make sure it’s well composted - it is so rich in nutrients it can ‘scorch’ young plants or even kill them. If you do get fresh horse manure, add it to your garden heap and allow it to compost for at least a year.
 
The down side to horse manure, aside from the cost if you are buying it in, is the weed germination. Horse manure is notoriously full of nettles and dock seeds. Adding horse manure and composting it in your own garden heap may help to reduce the weed content, but only if your heap gets hot enough to kill the seeds.
 

Benefits

 
There’s so much more to mulching than just keeping down the weeds and feeding your plants:=
 
  1. It improves the soil texture and structure; this is about getting a good balance between soil particles and air spaces in the soil.  Soil structure is vital to plant health and growth, when the soil is wet its structure is easily damaged; it becomes compressed and packed down, this squeezes out the spaces between the soil particles, which effectively cuts off the water and air supply, delicate new roots find compressed soils difficult to penetrate as do worms and all the other beneficial soil insects – no wonder the plants suffer and die!
     
  2. It improves water and nutrient retention; composts are basically organic matter which acts at a molecular level to ‘lock on’ to nutrients and water ‘storing’ them which then makes them available for plants to use.
     
  3. It encourages soil life; composts are full of micro-organisms, both bacteria and fungi, which are beneficial to plants. They work by changing the chemical state of the nutrients so plants can use them, and they also help to keep plants disease free. Composts also provide food for larger organisms like earth worms and earth worms are essential for the creation and maintenance of good soil structure. 

Spread your mulch in Autumn to a good 10cm depth; the layer of mulch will help to protect your soil structure during the winter. Take care of your soil and soil life and it will provide healthy, productive plants, plus there’s no need to dig your compost in – just let the worms do the work for you. Look after them and they will look after you!

Getting stuck in
Loading the mulch at Felbrigg Hall