How deep should mulch be? Is deep mulch gardening for you? I'm convinced it's for just about everyone - read on to see why!
Mulching the garden serves multiple purposes and like all other homesteaders, we love dual-purpose things. It works for any size or style of garden!
Those who start deep mulch gardening almost always tell me, “I wish I done this sooner!”
What is Deep Mulch Gardening?
Deep mulch gardening is an ancient way of preserving and reviving life in the soil, conserving moisture for the plants, loosening clay rich soils, and preventing weed growth for the gardener and the plants.
This ancient gardening practice involves placing 6”- 24” of mulching materials over the soil of your garden, raised beds, or even containers. I know this sounds like a lot... but start where you are and add more to it as you go!
In my experience, at least 4” of mulch makes for a great start. You can continue to add more mulching materials as you go along. It has to be replenished every year anyway as the layers begin to decompose and feed your soil.
There's not one strict way to practice deep mulch gardening. You can implement whatever seems to fit into your homestead the best.
Another is called the Ruth Stout Method, named after the book she wrote on the topic.
Some find the best way is to use a balance of these two methods.
Mulching Materials for Deep Mulch Gardening
Before we look at the main materials used in deep mulching, heed this word of caution:
Be sure that the material you choose is not treated with pesticides and herbicides. These are poisonous to you, your soil, and the plants which grow there.
You can use all of these, or any combination thereof to get the deep mulch established. The rule of thumb is to use what is native, readily available, or easily scavenged on your homestead. Here's some things we've had success with:
- Pine straw (pine needles) - pine straw will make the soil acidic. You may want to have your soil tested and adjust accordingly.
- Grass Clippings – be sure the grass you add has not gone to seed to avoid having a grass problem in the garden.
- Cover Crops
- Wood Chips – some people say wood chips will leach nitrogen from the soil as they decompose. Testing your soil before and a year after application will let you know what’s going on in your soil.
- Biodegradable landscape fabric or plastic – some of these still contain chemicals so check the label carefully.
- Newspaper and cardboard – generally contain chemicals. Use your judgment according to how you feel about these in your garden.
Get creative! You may be able to gather some of these materials from neighbors or local businesses. Just remember to check if they use herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals on any of the materials.
Establishing Your Deep Mulch Garden
It really is a simple task! This checklist can help. Deep mulch gardening can feel a bit time consuming and labor intensive the first year, but it's worth it 100%!
These steps are the same for any style garden: traditional rows, raised beds, and containers.
1) Cut down any weeds or grass covering your garden spot. Even if your garden is established already, you may need to perform this task.
2) The method of deep mulch gardening you use determines this step:
Place a layer of biodegradable landscape fabric or plastic, then a layer of cardboard, then a few layers of newspapers. You can do all or any combination of these as your base layer. Before you place your mulching materials on top of these, water thoroughly.
Begin mulching by placing layers of the mulch material you have chosen directly on the garden, raised bed or container until you are at least 4” deep. Most people are happy with 6” – 8” of deep mulch.
Some people do not use newspapers, cardboard, or non-organic decomposing barriers.
3) The best way to prepare the mulching material is to run a lawnmower over it to shred it up before spreading it. This is beneficial to decomposition by allowing better air and water flow. In the real world this may not be practical but, if possible, it will help.
How to Plant in Your Deep Mulch Garden
Decide where you want to place your rows or hills, use a garden fork or hoe to part the mulch, leaving the soil exposed for planting.
Plant your seeds or plants directly in the soil as you would without mulch. As the seedlings get big enough, simply pull the mulch back into place.
Some Realities of Deep Mulch Gardening
There is still some work involved in deep mulch gardening. Piling the mulch can be labor intensive. If weeds do make it through, they will have to be removed and more mulch added to create a deeper layer.
Snails and slugs are drawn to moist decomposing mulch. You can make a simple trap by digging a hole and placing a bowl of cheap beer in it so that the top of the bowl is level with the ground. They are attracted to the fermented beverage instead of your garden. Sounds crazy, but it works!
Other than that, there aren't many downsides. We've had a massive amount of success gardening this way!
Now you know what deep mulch gardening is - are you going to give it a try? It may be extra work upfront, but in the years to come you’ll save hours of work and say (just like everyone else 😉), “I wish I’d done this sooner!”
You might also enjoy:
- 5 Things I Wish I'd Done Before the Harvest
- Garden Planning For Beginners
- Beginner's Guide to Back To Eden Gardening
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