Mulching improves the soil quality, helps retain moisture and gives your garden a neat appearance – with less weeds. Now’s the ideal time to mulch your beds! “Mulches are best applied from mid- to late spring and autumn, when the soil is moist and warm,” advises Mimi Rupp, a respected garden consultant and founder of Stone etc. in Port Elizabeth.
What to choose
When it comes to mulch you have two choices:
- Biodegradable mulches - leaf mold, garden compost, wood chippings, and well-rotted manure break down gradually to release nutrients and help to improve soil structure. The downside is that mulch will need replacing when the material has fully broken down.
- Non-biodegradable mulches - slate, shingle, pebbles, gravel, stone chipping do not boost soil quality, but they do suppress weeds, conserve moisture and look decorative.
According to Rupp, beds and borders can be mulched entirely, but you need to take care not to smother low growing plants or to pile mulches up against the stems of woody plants.
These are her top tips:
- To be effective, biodegradable mulches need to be between at least 5cm and 7.5cm thick
- Lay mulches over moist soil, after removing weeds, including their roots
- Singletrees and specimen shrubs are best mulched to the radius of the canopy
- There is no need to remove mulches to apply fertilizers. Spread fertilizers over mulches in late winter so they are washed down to roots when it rains
- A buildup of mulch can produce a hard layer, which is difficult for water to penetrate. Avoid this by only replacing the mulch when it has completely rotted away
In order to have healthy plants they need compost, which is decayed organic material.
Garden waste: Grass cuttings are high in nitrogen and leaves area good source of carbon. You can also add twigs, dead flowers and those weeds that haven’t gone to seed.
Household waste: Egg boxes, egg shells, teabags, coffee grounds, veggie scraps, newspaper and firewood ash.
Don’t use: Cooked or raw meat, dairy products, citrus, animal faeces, diseased or insect-infested plants and plants that have been sprayed with chemicals.
How to compost
Compost bins: Position bins directly on soil/grass as this allows insects, worms and other micro-organisms to access the contents and assist in breaking down the waste. Give it a good mix once a week. After 3–6months, the contents should start looking like a dark soil similar to garden soil.
Compost heaps: Once you’ve chosen a suitable spot, simply begin a heap, enclose it with bricks, plastic or wooden fencing. Start with small branches and twigs to create ventilation at the bottom of the pile, then add garden and household waste – alternate layers of green (grass clippings, household waste) with brown (dry leaves, twigs, newspaper). After about 6 months, your compost should be dark brown, crumbly and ready to use.
Compost worm farms: These are a great way to turn kitchen waste into organic garden food. Known as vermiculture, the process involves feeding kitchen waste to worms. The worms then reward you with nutrient-rich vermicompost and organic vermitea – by-products of worm castings – which can be used to feed soil and plants. Both are rich in microbes, good bacteria and enzymes.
Fertilisers are another quick, convenient and reliable way to add nutrients to your soil. They are usually in granulated form; liquid form is also available in organic types. Organic fertilisers are more beneficial to the soil as they encourage earthworms and good bacteria thus improving the soil’s structure.
Make your own fertiliser
1. Used tea leaves and coffee grounds contain natural nitrogen which helps to promote growth
2. Blend kitchen vegetable scraps and egg shells in blender with cup of water, mix into soil around the plant’s base
3. Accumulate your banana peels, dry them out in the oven and place in a blender. Mix in 3 – 5 egg shells. Blend into a fine, yet still slightly coarse powder. Apply to the base of your plants like you would a granular fertiliser.