For those of us growing things in drier parts of the UK, water conservation has always been a cause for concern. This is something the rest of the country quickly learns every time the British summer fails to live up to the somewhat damp reputation many gardeners have come to expect. There are lots of ways to save water or cut down on usage but what if you could teach your garden to use its own H2O more wisely? Well, in a way you can and it's mulch easier than you might have thought! Mulching is nothing new. Many gardeners spread a variety of materials on the surface of their soil for either practical or cosmetic reasons. Mulch can be more than just an attractive dressing, however. Using the right sort of mulch can benefit your garden in many ways and one of the most persuasive is the way it can help your plants use the water that's available to it more effectively. You can use an array of different materials for mulching.
They all have their own pros and cons and most will benefit your soil's ability to retain water to some extent. Artificial or inorganic materials - such as shredded rubber or pebbles and stones - can be an attractive finishing touch around ornamental plantings and won't rot down so you won't need to top up or replace as often. These materials will still help lock moisture into the ground by reducing evaporation, but that's where their benefits to the soil stop. Organic mulch, depending what you use, stops moisture escaping in the same way but can also add varying amounts welcome nutrition to your garden as it naturally breaks down.
New generation mulches have moved on from the simple straw, hay or compost often used in the past. Manufactured smart mulches such as Rolawn's new ProMulch are attractive garden dressings that make use of natural eco-technology to help your soil withstand the environmental challenges thrown at it by the British weather. Rolawn ProMulch has recently been awarded the Waterwise Checkmark for its water saving properties. This innovative peat-free product is manufactured from stabilised chopped straw using a unique and patented process. As well as reducing evaporation, ProMulch can also increase the amount of moisture your soil is able to hold and help to minimise soil erosion, essential when we appear to have a drought one month and torrential rain the next. If you are still not convinced, mulching has other year-round benefits. Plants are often most at risk during the spring when the weather is most likely to be unable to make up its mind what it's going to do from one week to the next.
This year was a great example. A properly mulched (we'll go into that later) garden can take the edge off soil temperature fluctuations and take the bite out of changeable weather. Plant roots can be damaged by frost during harsh winter conditions and a layer of mulch can help benefit future growth. It will also help regulate soil temperature during the summer months. Mulch is also a good way to inhibit weed development while, depending on your choice of material, adding nutrients to your garden. Weeds love the light and applying mulch to your beds and borders keeps unwanted seeds in the dark. A decorative surface dressing like pebbles or tumbled glass will starve weed seeds of light and prevent them from germinating but will not break down and add to the quality of your soil over time. Modern organic mulches like Rolawn ProMulch will add vital nutrients to your soil while they send a message to unwanted plants that there's very little light here, don't bother to grow!
If you decide your garden will benefit from a layer of mulch, it's important to bear a few things in mind. Once you've weighed up the pros and cons and chosen a material, you need to ensure the area has been thorough weeded as the last thing you want to do is nurture any undesirable plants that are already lurking in your beds. If the ground has been walked on or is very firm, then it's best to loosen the soil so it can draw the full benefits of the extra nutrients the mulch will bring with it. Ensure your soil is damp, not only will the mulch help the soil retain the moisture, it will also help your chosen material stay in place.
Don't skimp on your mulch, it's recommended you apply at least a 50mm covering to obtain the full benefits and the best appearance for your garden. Do avoid the temptation to pile up your mulch around the trunks and stems of shrubs and plants as this can create the right conditions for the rot to set in. And there's not mulch else to do! If you've used an organic material, this will eventually rot down and you will just need to keep an eye on levels and top up as necessary.