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6 Organic Mulches That Will Keep Plants Cool This Summer

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Mulching your gardens during the warmest summer months will do wonders for growing plants and will encourage a healthier soil environment for your plants to grow. Over time, this creates a biodiverse growing platform that will be the envy of the neighbors. In fact, this is one of the 7 laws of gardening [2]. By doing this crucial step, it reduces evaporation from the soil surface by 25%-50%. This will drastically reduce how often you water and save you money in the process. As well, mulching controls the temperature of soil, shades the roots so they can branch out and grow, controls weeds and prevents soil compaction.

There are two types of mulches: organic and inorganic. In this article I will concentrate on the most popular types of organic mulches and ones that are easily found around the yard. I prefer organic mulches because they improve the soil quality as they decompose; which, in turn, encourages more microscopic activity in the soil. This makes it a more inviting environment for beneficial insects [3].

Here are some things to keep in mind when using organic mulches:

You don’t have to run to your garden center and spend a small fortune on these organic mulches, many of these you may have around your yard. Here are seven excellent mulches that will keep your garden thriving!

  1. Grass clippings – Rather than throwing away your grass clippings after you have mowed this lawn, use them to your advantage. This natural mulch will also return nitrogen back to the soil, thus feeding your soil an essential nutrient to keep plants growing. This is also a great addition for lasagna gardens [7].
  2.  Pine needles – Many of us having a plethora of pine needles and may not realize these make a great mulch. Despite what you may have heard, pine needles will not change the acidity of the soil. They are an ideal mulch because they provide uniformity to the beds, easily allows water to pass through and create air pockets which is beneficial for the soil.
  3. Straw – Straw is an ideal mulch that really does everything an organic mulch should do: retains moisture, reduces weeds and adds organic matter to the soil when it breaks down. Make sure you purchase straw that is weed free.
  4. Shredded leaves – Leaf mulch is a great way to utilize fallen leaves. Read more about which leaves are best for mulch [8]. These make wonderful mulches and have a slow decomposition process. An electric leaf mulcher [9]will chop leaves to a suitable length and cut down on time. Note: Leaves of the black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) are an exception due to the presence of juglone, a chemical that inhibits growth of many plants. While walnut roots and hulls cause most of the problems, the leaves also contain smaller quantities.
  5. Wood chips – By far, wood chips are one of the most popular types of natural mulches. These are readily available at your local garden center, but if you happen to have a downed tree from a storm, make the most of it and retain some of the bark for wood chips. Also, contact local tree-care companies to see if they would be willing to sell you a trunkload of chips at a nominal price.
  6. Newspaper – This is a frugal mulch choice for your garden and a great way to reduce weeds. Using 2 to 4 layers of newspaper strips is great for use in pathways and around newly set strawberry plants. It’s best to use another organic mulch in addition to newspapers, such as sawdust or hay, to hold paper in place.
  7. Living mulches – A living mulch a low-growing plant used in the vegetable garden as a mulch. It is often a companion plant. Some of the most favorite types of living mulches are clovers, hairy vetch, alfalfa and rye grass. Once the garden is put to rest, the living mulch can either be tilled into the soil or harvest and fed to livestock like rabbits or chickens as a treat.

Mulched gardens are healthier, contain fewer weeds, and are more drought-resistant [10] compared to gardens that are not mulched. Done properly, this will make for a more efficient gardening experience and keep you from fighting weeds and pests. Make the most use of the items you have around you and utilize them in garden beds and landscaping rather than throwing them away.

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