Nature is always hard at work mulching. Out in the wilds, leaves drop continuously as plants try to protect their roots – an evolutionary stratagem used to conserve moisture, to help the soil retain warmth, or to suppress the growth of other competition. Mulching is nature’s way of creating vibrant and powerful plant life.
Most feeder roots for our plants live in the top two or three inches of the soil. When the soil beneath our plants appears battleship gray and equally hard, you can assume those plants aren’t finding equal moisture and nutrients to perform at their best. Adding a few inches of mulch softens the soil structure almost immediately after being lain. Suddenly, water from your sprinklers, or, from that stuff other parts of the world call “rain,” doesn't skitter off the soil’s surface. The mulch slows the percolation of water down and allows the soil to absorb it fully.
• Keeps the soil from getting bone dry between watering periods
• Slows evaporation rates.
• Improves earthworm habitat.
• Keeps the weeds at bay.
• Softens the impact of your footfalls while you prune and deadhead.
Fall is Ideal
There are well-made arguments for mulching in any season, but as autumn is California is our best planting season (the season where, excluding our coldest regions, most perennial plants should and can be planted), it also becomes the perfect time for a good mulching.
By mulching in the fall, especially in the environs of new transplants, you’ll literally be giving your garden a security blanket to fend off occasional frosts and/or the far to frequent 90-degree week arriving around New Year’s Day. Water, weeds and weather weirdness will all be managed by mulching.
Mulches like redwood composts or shredded barks are attractive and easily distributed. For extra water retention a product like Mulch Block is ideal. Decorative barks are great for a long-term, ‘once-in-a-blue-moon’ style of mulching and cocoa mulch (made from the hulls of cocoa beans) tickles the air with the scent of chocolate whenever stepped upon.
Mulches come in many forms and functions, and what’s right for you may not be right for your neighbor. Luckily there’s lots of options and luckily you’ve read this article and decided that, finally, this is the year you’re going to start mulching, the year you put on the garden gloves and begin to seriously upgrade your garden investment.