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Permaculture Techniques - Mulching
Mulching is defined as covering the soil surface with a loose (uncompacted) layer of organic material, with the purpose of adding plant nutrients, buffering soil temperatures, preventing erosion, promoting soil life and restoring soil structure. See also our article on Making Our Own Mulch.
- Humus helps block heavy metal uptake by plants by holding heavy metals bound in colloids.
- Good water retention, water inputs is reduced, and reduced evaporation.
- Prevents soil erosion.
- Provides readily available and biologically active soil components, including nutrients and minerals, to plants.
- Stabilises nutrient supply over long term.
- Enhances seed germination.
- Increases populations of soil organisms (micro-organisms, insects, spiders, earthworms, et) on or near the surface.
- Cool decay of mulch results in less loss of nitrogen.
- Preserves or builds soil structure.
- Suppresses weeds.
- Uses garden surplus.
- Improves the appearance of the garden (particularly in hot/dry climates).
- Non-organic mulches generally have site/application specific uses which can increase yields or reduces crop loss to pests (Black plastic for strawberries).
When selecting mulch consider the following factors:
- don't use material that propagates from cuttings unless you desire that plant
- select weed free mulching materials
- select those with minimal residual biocides (be careful with carpet mulches and carpet felt as they may have been treated, and also boron build up can occur from using cardboard, some mulches or composts containing animal manure where contamination with food or medical chemicals is likely)
- pick material which is suited to the plantings - companionability (eg strawberries like pine needles)
Be aware of the properties of the mulch:
- Does it rob the soil of nitrogen as it decomposes (eg. grass clippings, sawdust)?
- Does it contain growth inhibiting components (eg. most eucalyptus leaves, pine needles)
- Does it compact to form a water repellent crust (eg. sawdust)
- Is it sustainable? - It is preferable to use only locally produced or recycled materials. (Peat is not only costly and generally packaged in plastic, but is imported from overseas, using much fossil fuel in the process!)
Prunings are best if shredded first, but can have useful applications as protection to vulnerable plants. Ensure mulch does not blow away by using a combination of materials or providing adequate shelter from wind. Grow your own mulch (eg. nasturtium, green manure crops). Use 'living' mulch using plant 'stacking' principle. Don't place mulch up to plant stems (can cause collar rot and damage to plants). Compost is also an excellent mulching material when placed on top of soil.
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