Mulching your garden beds improves soil health and prevents water loss through evaporation.
Mulching is the number one rule for water conservation in your garden. Adding mulch to your garden beds can prevent water loss by up to 25 per cent, reducing evaporation rates and increasing the water storage capacity of your soil.
Soil is the starting point for life in the garden (and in the forest, bush and grassland). It is continually being made in one of nature's great cycles. We can't make it - the plants and animals do - but we can assist the process by regularly returning organic materials to the earth. Mulching also suppresses weeds, which compete with your plants for nutrients and water, provides a stable soil temperature to promote plant growth and, of course, saves water.
Follow our simple steps to improve the life-giving benefits of soil and reduce the quantity of water required in your garden.
There are several sources of mulch, many of which can be found in your own backyard. Common mulch items include:
Size does matter. Coarse mulches are proven to be more effective at allowing water to pass through the mulch layer and into the soil. In terms of mulch, bigger does tend to be better. Anything above 5mm is preferred.
Use your own garden waste first. Anything produced in your own backyard requires very little energy for transportation (probably just your own) compared to buying it, which has been transported from somewhere else and has embedded energy costs, which you'll pay for. If you're planning to use matter from home you'll need to consider a compost bin (to decompose the material) and/or a mulcher or old-fashioned chaff cutter.
Find a local source of mulch. Talk to the experts and find out what local sources are available and suitable for your needs.
Want to do it all over again? Most mulches last for a year. An annual mulch in spring (or anytime before the hot weather arrives) may be all that is required. However, pea straw and lucerne tends to break down more rapidly and might need a more regular top-up.
Some mulch alternatives. Gravels and pebbles can also be used as a mulch. While they can suppress weeds and save water, they generally don't feed the soil. These can be useful on some native and succulent gardens which have low nutrient requirements, but are not recommended elsewhere.
Green manures. Green manures are plants (typically legumes) which are grown for the purposes of returning nutrients directly to the soil and are great for the veggie patch. After dying back naturally or being slashed while still green and soft, these plants are dug into the soil to return valuable nutrients ready for the next planting. Legumes (peas and beans) are most often used, as they are high in nitrogen and are able to release it in a form readily accessible to plants. Other plants, like Comfrey, have very deep roots and take up nitrogen and other nutrients from the subsoil, also making it accessible to plants.
Australia is the planet's driest inhabited continent. Any action that efficiently uses and conserves water while supporting the nutrient cycle to build soil biomass (a great way to store carbon) is a good thing. It's also an easy way to reduce the amount of weeding you need to do in spring, while adding to the health of your garden. Conserving water, especially during a drought and reducing our impact on the planet wherever we can is everyone’s responsibility.
Many parts of Australia have experienced severe weather patterns and including prolonged droughts. With more dry, hot, windy weather is predicted in the years to come, we should all try to conserve water while maintaining our green spaces. By providing a good layer of mulch you prevent the evaporation of water from the soil and enhance its water retention capacity, ensuring there is more available to the plants and less need for additional watering by you.
Mulching is physical work. It requires shovelling, carrying and spreading heavy loads around the garden. Doing this for just 30 minutes is equivalent to walking three kilometres or for 40 minutes; so jump to it and mulch your way to fitness.