Just like you wouldn’t face the world without clothes on, it is the same with a garden, native or not. Gardens need a healthy layer of mulch for insulation and health.
What is mulch? Mulch is a layer of organic matter that is applied yearly over a garden to protect and add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Types of mulch are quite varied. Home grown much includes leaves, compost, grass clippings and chipped up yard waste. You can also purchase commercial mulch, bark dust, and straw.
If you mulch you will reduce the need to water, weed, and fertilize. Just like insulation it will keep your garden warm in winter and cooler in summer. It will also help retain moisture. Earthworms, fungi, and bacteria will eventually break it down and supply nutrients. That’s why you need to reapply every year on exposed soil.
I used to rake up my leaves and then dispose of them until I read about applying them on my flower beds every fall. Perfect! It’s a more ecological solution than the former and cheaper than buying commercial mulch. This mimics a forest in the way trees in the fall drop their leaves to nourish the plants below each year. After planting my vegetable garden every May I apply a layer of straw that I’ve purchased at the local farm store. Some grass sprouts from the straw but it’s nothing compared to the work it saves from weeding. By spring it has pretty much decomposed.
So here I am in the dog days of summer and I’ve finally mulched my new native plant garden with yard waste produced from our chipper. I am careful to keep the mulch away from the base of trees, shrubs and plants to avoid rot. I also leave a little well around the plant to catch water. This ideally should have been done in the spring but life got the best of me. With gardening you do the best you can. Better late than never!
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Illustration and photo by the author