Gardeners often talk about mulch, but what exactly is mulch? Basically, mulch is anything that covers the surface of the ground. Examples include gravel, rocks, shredded bark, wood chips and grass clippings. Common reasons for using mulch are water conservation, temperature consistency, weed control and erosion prevention. Mulch will also provide a consistent covering around your plants that will harmonize the look of your garden.

In terms of water conservation, a layer of mulch will act as an insulator and slow the evaporation of water. This is especially important in the summer so that the plant roots donít dry out. Mulch also helps keep the soil warmer in winter and cooler in the summer because the plant roots donít have to go through rapid temperature changes. Mulch prevents weeds from growing by eliminating the light source that weeds need to thrive. And on a hillside, mulch can help prevent soil erosion and water runoff.

Two types of mulch are organic and inorganic. Inorganic mulches include black plastic, gravel, rocks or rubber. Organic mulches are materials that were once alive such as grass clippings, dried leaves, shredded bark, wood chips, pine needles, compost and crushed nut hulls. These organic mulches have the additional benefit of decomposing over time and adding nutrients to your soil by providing food for worms and microorganisms. The decomposed material also helps sandy soil retain more moisture and helps clay soil become less compacted.

Once you have your plants established in your garden, spread a two to four inch layer of mulch on the surface of the soil up to around ten inches from the base of each plant. Avoid putting the mulch directly next to the plant because it encourages root rot and pest damage.

Your plants will be happy with their new blanket of mulch and you will be too, knowing you are saving water and you wonít have to weed as often. As always, consider hiring a professional to help you with this project.