Everyone knows that mulch adds the finishing touch to landscaping, but did you know that it can also improve the health of your soil? Mulch is a multi-purpose tool with both cosmetic and physical benefits. Plus, it’s easy and inexpensive. Today we’re going to learn what mulch is, how it can help your yard, and how to mulch.

First of all, why mulch? Mulch not only adds beauty to landscaping projects, promoting neatness and uniformity, but it also improves the health of your soil. Mulch helps your soil conserve moisture, improve its fertility, and fight weed growth. With a thick layer of mulch over their heads, annual weeds (unable to receive sunlight) are far less likely to sprout and you can reduce your water usage by up to 50%. Plus, organic mulch will break down and add nutrients to the soil.

Mulch is simply a layer of material applied to the surface of an area of soil. There are many different types available including compost, plastic, rock, gravel, and rubber (which is made from recycled tires). Organic mulch is also very common. It is made from grass, leaves, hay, straw, bark, sawdust, woodchips, newspaper, cardboard, wool, manure, and more. It’s important that you research the different types of mulch beforehand so that you can find the best type for your yard, or ask a landscaping expert at your garden supply center. Each type of mulch has its pros and cons. Organic mulch, for example, will decay over time and gravel mulch works well in cooler climates because it retains heat. You probably shouldn’t use plastic mulch unless you have a large-scale vegetable garden and even then, it comes with environmental concerns.

Now, let’s learn how to mulch. Mulching is a great idea in the late spring or early summer because that’s when the moisture level is still high and you’ve probably started planting new vegetation. Mulch will stabilize the temperature and moisture of the soil (which is important during the constantly changing weather of spring) and protect plants on cold nights. Organic mulch is recommended for home gardens. It is inexpensive, will break down eventually, and can be applied easily by hand or with a rake.

To begin, pull any weeds and loosen the soil a bit. Then, start adding your mulch. Don’t be afraid to pile it high; mulch will settle and decompose, so you should start with a generous layer. The mulch can be up to 6 inches high, though 2-4 is the minimum. This layer of mulch, of course, should not cover your plants; leave 4-5 inches of breathing room around any flowers, shrubs, and trees so that they get plenty of water.

If you don’t get around to it in the spring, it is very important to learn how to mulch before winter arrives. Surround plants with mulch before the winter cold sets in to protect them from extreme temperature, dry spells, and frost heaving.

Finally, if you’re worried about sod or dense weeds, you should place a layer of newspaper beneath your mulch (this will prevent sunlight from reaching the weeds). Like your mulch, it will decompose naturally. And if you’ve reason to fear termites, take care not to place mulch too close to your home. Stay several inches away for proper pest protection, as wood mulch is a very attractive food source for termites.

Now that you’ve learned how to mulch and why it’s important, I hope you’ll consider adding some mulch to your yard. It’s simple, easy, beautiful, and very healthy. Your garden will thank you!