Benefits of mulching: It’s more than meets the eye

WOODSTOCK – Mulching has many benefits. What started thousands of years ago when trees began dropping their leaves or needles has created a layer of organic matter that serves many functions for the soil and organisms below.

Master Gardener Elaine Specht knows from experience that mulching has many added benefits than meets the eye.

“Mulch provides many functions, but first and foremost it provides cover to the soil, reducing or elimination erosion,” Specht said. “It also helps retain moisture, adds organic material to the root zone of the plant and allows the recycling of nutrients below the surface.”

Mulch is any type of material that can be spread or laid over a surface of soil to create a covering. Types of mulch include shredded bark, wood chips, sawdust, lawn clippings, leaves and pine straw.

Specht said gardeners will decide what types of mulch suit their own needs, but she uses bark in the spring and leaves in the fall.

“Bark is the most common type of mulch we see because it’s easily obtainable,” she said. “It also provides organic matter to the soil and offers an aesthetically pleasing effect when applied properly.”

Mulching has many added benefits. It retains soil moisture, regulates soil temperature, suppresses weed growth and adds curb appeal.

Mulch also:

  • Helps to delay soil freezing and prevent frost heaving.
  • Protects plants and plant roots from damage by equipment such as mowers and weed eaters.
  • Minimizes compaction from traffic in the mulched area.
  • Helps to suppress competing vegetation such as weeds and grass.
  • Slows runoff from rain and allows moisture to soak in to the ground.
  • Enhances garden and landscape appearance.
  • Makes garden and landscape maintenance easier.

When applying mulch, Specht said the mulch should be laid down around planting time and then annually as needed. Prior to mulching, weeds should be removed. If any trees reside in the mulched area, Specht said to mulch from near the trunk to the drip line, or at least 2 to 3 feet out whenever possible.

“Mulch should not be in contact with the tree’s trunk,” she said. “And it should never be piled up against the tree, like a volcano.”

Mulch should be applied 2 to 4 inches deep. If it’s applied too thinly, it will not serve its intended purpose.

“The best thing gardeners can do for their plants is to mulch,” she said. “It will beautify the area, conserve moisture throughout the season and will benefit the plant in a number of ways.”