Mulching is so beneficial for plants, it is an essential part of good garden management. A good organic mulch conserves moisture, prevents weeds, improves water infiltration, protects the soil and adds organic matter as it decomposes.
Materials which decompose more rapidly (eg. hay, straw, immature compost, soft leaves, seaweed) are suitable for annual beds such as vegetables. Materials that decompose more slowly (eg. pine bark, wood chips, tough leaf and twig litter) are more suitable for perennial beds and under permanent plantings such as fruit trees. Synthetic materials such as 'weed mats' inhibit water infiltration and air circulation and are a barrier to the entry of organic materials and access to the surface by worms. They are therefore of no benefit to plants and are not recommended.
Mulch can be applied after sowing seed but it should barely cover the surface so as not to inhibit the emerging seedlings. With established annual and perennial plantings, shrubs and trees, apply a layer of mulch in spring before the hot weather arrives. Maintain this at 5-8 cm depth. Do not over mulch as this can inhibit the entry of water and air into the soil and trap moisture during cold weather. Maintain minimum or no mulch during the winter, particularly in frost prone locations.
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