4 types of mulch on my site - the pros and cons of using
Recognized luminaries of natural farming promise a cloudless gardening under the reliable cover of various mulching materials, and the imagination draws a picture of serene relaxation in the country, while the garden "serves itself." But, as is often the case in practice, everything turns out very differently. In this article, I would like to tell readers about what difficulties and pitfalls we had to face in the process of using different types of mulch in the berry, flower beds and in the garden. Did the mulching materials cope with their main tasks, and how to apply the principles of mulching most effectively?
1. Straw mulch
The decision to use natural farming methods in growing vegetables came to us on the eve of buying our own plot. And in the very first season, as soon as we had a garden, the entire previously studied theory began to gain practical approbation. As you know, one of the main postulates of organic farming is the principle of the absence of bare land on the site. This approach seemed completely justified to us, because theoretically the use of mulch on the beds removed the need for loosening the soil, protected against weed growth, reduced the frequency of irrigation and enriched the soil with nutrients.
We had the highest hopes for the method of mulching with straw, so in the first year of the purchase of the site we took care of acquiring straw. In the vicinity of our country house there were many farms, and near each of them one could see a huge number of cylindrical straw bales.
Although farmers were not at all opposed to selling them, all as one put forward one condition - pickup. However, it was not possible to carry a bulk roll weighing 400 kilograms in a passenger car without a trailer. Only after persistent searches we managed to find a local resident who agreed to bring 2 rolls of straw on a personal tractor.
As soon as we started laying out the mulch on the beds, new difficulties fell upon us. The stalks in the bales were so compressed that tearing them apart with their hands required considerable effort. And since the straw contained a huge amount of dust and particles of earth, at the end of the work we looked like miners.
The only thing that reassured us during this difficult work was the hope for a future carefree summer, thanks to the complete absence of weeds in the garden. The straw in the beds was spread out in a thick layer of about 30 centimeters, and we were sure that not a single weed could easily break through such a barrier.
But in the new season, insidious straw gave us another unpleasant surprise: at the beginning of summer, our mulch turned green! And these were not the very local weeds from which we so stubbornly defended themselves, but the new seeds of weeds that were present in abundance in straw bales. And if bare earth in this case could be easily cultivated with a hoe, then shoots on straw had to be weaved exclusively by hand, and this was our next defeat.
Results of using straw mulch
Soil microorganisms dealt with a thick layer of mulch in just 2 years and there was no trace of it, the soil in the place of straw became looser, more fertile and was infested with earthworms in a finger thick, but still there was little nitrogen in it, since pumpkin cultures showed signs nitrogen starvation.
Another unexpected advantage of straw mulch can be called the ability to absorb moisture well and literally provide gardeners with clean legs. When our site was traditionally flooded in the spring, the neighboring garden turned into an impassable swamp, where it was impossible to step even a step, while we calmly went to the beds without boots and had the opportunity to start planting earlier.
Therefore, despite the series of mentioned failures, I would not want to discourage gardeners from using straw mulch, and given our experience, not to make such mistakes, namely:
- Keep in mind that at a time when mulch is needed (in spring and autumn), special equipment is usually busy in the fields, and straw removal will have to be organized independently;
- If you do not want to get a “lawn” from weeds in the garden, you do not need to use fresh straw, but let it stand in the open air for at least a year; at the same time, it is better to periodically shed bales so that the seeds contained in them sprout;
- Take into account the difficulty of unraveling straw bales, and think in advance about how to cut the straw “roll”. For example, some enterprising summer residents use a chainsaw for this purpose. And if you still decide to spin the straw by hand, use a respirator and gloves;
- If possible, initially buy small rectangular straw bales that are easier to transport and cut;
- To compensate for the absorption of nitrogen, which is inevitable when decomposing any plant mulch, it is better to add manure or droppings to the straw;
- Keep in mind that straw is a very voluminous material, and if you spread it out with a layer of 30 centimeters, it will quickly compress and decrease by about 2 times, that is, in fact you will get a layer of 15 centimeters.
2. Sawdust mulching
Initially, we deliberately did not want to use sawdust in the garden, hearing from the edge of our ears that they strongly acidify the soil, and successfully used this type of mulch exclusively to cover the beds under the blueberries. But once we got over 10 bags of fresh fine-grained sawdust, which forced us to study in more detail the subtleties of mulching with this material.
As it turned out, there can indeed be a negative effect of fresh sawdust on the soil, but along with this, there were ways to minimize this effect. In particular, it is believed that sawdust draw nitrogen from the soil. And this is true, however, it should be clarified that nitrogen is not consumed by sawdust itself, but by bacteria that decompose wood waste in the soil. On this basis, along with sawdust, it is necessary to make food for gluttonous microorganisms.
Gardeners who do not hesitate to use mineral fertilizers for this purpose spill chips abundantly with a urea solution. And adherents of strict organic farming recommend mixing sawdust with horse or cow dung, or with chicken droppings.
Another complication associated with the use of wood processing enterprises in waste rows is changes in soil balance in the direction of increasing acidity. And this feature was also a consequence of the vital activity of the aforementioned bacteria. But even such undesirable consequences are quite easily eliminated by adding acid neutralizing lime (100-150 grams per sawdust bucket), dolomite flour or ash.
It should also be remembered that not fully rotted sawdust of conifers, due to their specific composition, acidify the soil much more strongly than hardwood. However, after the wood waste becomes compost, there will be no difference in acidity between coniferous or deciduous sawdust.
Following these recommendations, we mixed sawdust with wood ash and cow dung, receiving not only a harmless mulching material, but also an excellent fertilizer. Natural decay of waste from wood processing enterprises usually takes from 2 to 4 years, but in order to accelerate the decomposition of mulch and enrich the soil with nutrients, we added special bacterial preparations to the mulch that increase the rate of decomposition of organics.
Results of using sawdust as mulch
Due to the fine fraction, sawdust mulch has high covering qualities, therefore it prevented the appearance of weeds much more effectively than straw or mowed grass. On our beds from the bowels of the soil through a thick layer of sawdust (10 centimeters), only a few shoots of the most aggressive weeds, which in the cities are able to overcome even asphalt, made their way.
In the middle of summer, a few weed seeds also began to germinate on the surface of the mulch, but their weeding was easy and quick. No signs of nitrogen starvation were observed on plants mulched by a mixture of sawdust, ash and manure. With biological products, the mulch decomposed in one season, and without the use of additional microorganisms, sawdust mulch was enough for 2 years (but at the beginning of the summer we still slightly updated the upper layer).
Pros of using sawdust mulch:
- improvement of soil structure (especially on heavy loamy soils);
- complicates the movement of pests along the beds (primarily slugs and snails);
- mulch from sawdust does not create favorable conditions for the reproduction of woodlice and ants;
- reduces the number of weeds;
- prevents the soil from overheating and crusting;
- Cheap and affordable stuff.
3. Buckwheat mulch
A similar unusual method of mulching, I spied at the cottage of my brother. Despite the fact that he did not speak very positively about this type of mulch on vegetable beds, I really liked the visual effect, and I decided to try using buckwheat in flower beds.
In our city, 50-liter bags of buckwheat husk were sold in one of the stores for goods for organic farming. (But I suppose that it is possible to purchase waste directly from production). The price of such mulching material is inexpensive, and in comparison with the same wood bark, its cost can be called symbolic.
It was decided to use “buckwheat” mulch in the flower bed in early May, as soon as perennials became quite visible and rose 20 centimeters above the surface of the earth. The day turned out to be windy, but contrary to my fears, this did not prevent evenly distributing the husk on the surface of the flower bed with a layer of 5-8 centimeters. To protect against blowing by the wind, I spilled fresh mulch well from a spray bottle with a fine nozzle.
Results of mulching buckwheat husk
Under the influence of moisture, the buckwheat husk flakes coalesced into a rather dense, but at the same time breathable, crust preventing the growth of weeds. The seeds of individual plants, such as the ubiquitous sour, still germinated on the mulch, but they were incomparably smaller than previously appeared on bare soil.
Mulch served well all season and partially preserved after winter, but still it was required to renew the layer by about half. I suppose that it is possible to apply buckwheat husk no less successfully on beds. As for the aforementioned dissatisfaction of my brother with buckwheat husk, it consisted in the fact that the husk could not cope with the wheatgrass, but I think that such requirements were greatly exaggerated.
Among other things, I was worried that fragrant buckwheat husks would attract rodents to the garden. But, fortunately, the assumptions were not confirmed, and the number of mice per year of mulching did not exceed the usual one, and the bulbous ones wintering in the flower garden did not suffer.
Advantages of mulching with buckwheat husk:
- despite the low cost, flower beds under buckwheat husk look solid and stylish;
- ease of use - covering the soil with mulch from a weightless husk does not take much effort and time;
- buckwheat husk serves as a substitute for peat or humus for mulching fresh crops in order to prevent the formation of crust;
- fine texture improves the structure of the soil, makes the soil light and breathable.
4. Mulching with non-woven material
Typically, this fabric is found on sale under the trade names Agril, Agrospan, Spanbond and others, but in fact it is one and the same material made using special technologies. Most often, black or white fabric is on sale, in order to mulch it is recommended to use black non-woven material with a density of at least 60 grams per m2. Moreover, the higher the density, the longer the life of the synthetic mulch will be, and the less light will get to the weeds.
Plants are planted in cross-shaped incisions, and it is very important to first fix the material well on the bed and after that to conduct seedling planting. Non-woven material can be used to mulch a wide range of crops, but he was interested in me as a soil cover on beds with garden strawberries.
Some gardeners grow this berry under a black film, however, film mulch is absolutely non-breathing material, which contributes to overheating of the soil, reproduction of woodlice, slugs and ants under it, an increase in fungal diseases and other problems.
"Agrospan" is devoid of these shortcomings, due to the abundance of small pores that allow the earth to breathe, absorb and evaporate moisture. At the same time, such a shelter will not allow strawberry mustache to take root, and berries - to touch the ground.
The results of mulching non-woven material
Whatever they say, but black non-woven material still attracts heat, which can contribute to overheating of the soil, so I did not experiment, but purchased an improved version of Agrospan - a two-sided non-woven material. This fabric is characterized by increased density (90 grams per m2), and its main feature is that this non-woven fabric is black and white.
It is placed on the beds with the black side down, which prevents the growth of weeds, and the white (more precisely "grayish") front side does not allow the soil to overheat. If the average life of a standard black synthetic “non-fabric” as a mulch is 2-3 years, then black-and-white non-woven material of increased density has successfully performed its role in our berry for about 5 years. During this time, not a single weed was able to break through its surface, and the strawberry bushes feel excellent.
Positive aspects of mulching with non-woven material:
- under the black non-woven material, the beds warm up faster in the spring;
- non-woven fabric does not transmit light and inhibits weed growth;
- the fruits remain clean and less prone to decay;
- Non-woven material retains moisture and maintains a microclimate of the soil.
Dear readers, and what types of mulch do you use on your sites? Share your own mulching experience in the article comments.