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Just Leave It On Top

To mulch is to spread a layer of insulating material over the soil and around plants, to cover, decorate, prevent and project

Mulching your plants helps to save water and reduce the time you need to spend on tedious maintenance tasks like weeding.

But an added benefit of mulching with natural materials (which were in the post regarded as mere garden refuse) is that in time you will turn problematic garden soil into super soil' - nutrient-rich and easy to cultivate in, alive with aerating beneficial micro organisms, and with much better moisture-retention capabilities.

There are generally four types of mulch that one can use for different applications:
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Organic mulches
Good examples of organic mulches are coarse compost, leaf mould, wood chips, grass cuttings and straw. These mulches should be replenished frequently as they are broken down by soil organisms like earthworms and by cultivation when the soil is prepared for new plantings. The main value of organic mulches is the continuous enhancement of the soil structure to sustain healthier plant growth - especially when dealing with day, sandy soil and surface capping.

Where to apply
The ideal places to use organic mulches are in mixed borders that are seasonally changed with spring- or summer-flowering bulbs and bedding plants, and also in mixed shrub beds that ate densely planted.

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Inorganic mulches

Gravel, river pebbles, cut stone and colorful stone chips are examples of inorganic mulches of a more permanent nature. These materials are mostly used as a decorative layer to round off an eye-catching specimen plant or strong fecal point. The biggest advantage of a fairly thick layer of inorganic mulch is that it goes a long way to keeping the soil moist for longer, cutting out the need for frequent irrigation.

Where to apply
One would use inorganic mulching materials (some of which arc unfortunately quite expensive) in areas of the garden that have low to medium water requirements, such as a rock or succulent garden.

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Sheet mulching
Sheet mulches such as geotextile fabric let through water and air, but create a barrier that smothers weeds by keeping them in the dark and also protect the soil from wind-borne weed seeds. They are a necessity when creating a new gravel garden that contains lots of plants, in large and newly developed flowerbeds, and in vegetable gardens where weeds such as onion weed and oxalis are a major problem. After preparing the soil well with compost and bonemeal and levelling it off prior to planting lay the mulch matting over the soil, securing the edges with stones or anchoring it with blue wire pins. When It Is time to plant simply cut a cross in the matting, plant through the hole and tuck the flaps back to fit snugly around the plant’s stem. Ordinary black plastic sheeting can also be used but is not ideal around plants use it only to oppress weeds underneath solid paving or gravelled areas without plants.

Where to lay a sheet
Use sheet mulching wherever you have never planted before, but are now planning a new flowerbed, veggie garden or hedge Geotextile fabric is a practical measure, but not o decorative one, After planting, with all your beauties cosily tucked in, you might want to hide the sheet mulch while waiting for the plants to mature. Do this with a decorative layered another type of mulch such as bark chips or bark nuggets.

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Living mulches

Dense swathes of tough groundcovers like vygies, plectranthus, gazanias, arctotis or fast- spreading succulents like sedums, crassulas and echeverias, have the advantage of suppressing the germination of weeds while supplying glowing color and texture at ground level. They also keep the root systems of other plants cool and shaded. A disadvantage is that a living mulch, just like other plants, needs regular watering, fertilizing and a certain amount of maintenance like division or cutting back, to keep it lush and healthy. But, if you choose the plants well and keep rooting your own cuttings, this can be a cheap option to cover large expanses of soil quite quickly.

Where to plant a living mulch

Windy gardens where organic mulches like bark nuggets keep blowing away, steep banks where soil erosion is always a problem and pavement gardens are ideal places to use plants as your mulching option.

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General mulching tips
• You should always apply a little mulch straight after planting anything during  the year. But the best times for mulching on a bigger scale are autumn or late spring. Before mulching you will have to irrigate very well after removing all weeds, digging in compost for new plants and applying a balanced fertilizer. You are then ready to spread your protective layer of mulch about 5-8 cm thick.
• Never allow any organic mulch such as compost or leaf mould to lie close to the stems of plants it is warm and will cause rot.
•’Raw' or uncomposted plant material such as grass clippings or fresh prunings processed in a garden chipper can be used in thin and repetitive layers of 3-5 cm at any time if you have the material available. If your garden is regularly fertilized with balanced organic or chemical fertilizers during the growing seasons, the old 'bogeyman' story that they will rob your soil of nitrogen while breaking down should be disregarded.

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Decorative mulching
Because mulching is also used as a decorative layer by landscaping professionals, especially in newly designed gardens or around young plants that have not yet grown into their full potential, there is a wide range of ready- to-use mulches available from nurseries and hardware stores. This includes commercial mulch (which is normally composted bark), rooibos tea mulch (with a lovely smell and rich color! or coarse bark nuggets. Whereas the first two break down relatively quickly, the latter, a more expensive product, will take at least four years to break down and lends a very neat and rounded off look.
Depending on the area where you live, other pretty mulching materials derived from the agricultural sector can also be obtained and used. Peach pips, pecan shells, peanut shells and chipper processed grapevine clippings can all be used.
Gravel in different grades and shades is always a good option to create an interesting floor pattern, while at the same time keeping the roots of neighbouring plants moist and cool.
For container gardening (yes, plants in containers also need mulching) one is spoilt for choice, with white marble chips and splinters, red jasper stones and smooth river pebbles in different sizes and shades of brown, white or grey. I have even dollied up some of my houseplants with pine cones, shredded coir or dried florist's moss (very organic-looking) or glass marbles (very elegant!  these mulches have often saved lives when I forgot to water plants!

Cheap options

 • Straw the bales are available at agricultural co-ops and can be spread about 10 cm thick. Straw mulch is handy in vegetable gardens to keep ripening produce at ground level clean and disease-free. It can also be laid in pathways between plants to enable you cleaner and easier access to them.
• Pine needles are ideal for acid-loving plants like azaleas.
• Coffee grounds and tea leaves can be used to mulch acid loving plants in containers. Newspapers, cardboard cartons and old carpet underlay are not pretty, but can be very effective in keeping soil from drying out, preventing fertilizers from leaching too fast, and keeping weeds down in veggie gardens. Soil blanketed by them for a while becomes soft and easy to work with.

Dry Leaf

Never on dry soil
There is no point in spreading an insulating mulch layer on dry soil, as it would hinder the moisture from reaching the plants, which means they will require more water than usual. 

The purpose of mulching is to:

• Aid water preservation
• Aid heat retention in winter
• Aid root shading in summer
• Control weeds
• Prevent soil erosion

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