Best organic garden mulch for your plants
- By: Ashley Saunders
- November 2020
Mulch is a secret weapon of gardening which offers many benefits. It aids moisture retention, protects plants from the sun’s heat and keeps weeds at bay. A variety of mulches are available including organic and inorganic. But what’s the best organic garden mulch to use?
Usually spread as a thick layer over the soil and around plants, some mulches also contain nutrients, acting as slow-release plant food. Worms love to spread the mulch further into the soil. This improves soil structure, making it retain more moisture, free-draining and fertile.
With a variety of mulches available, each is used slightly different. The best organic garden mulches are made from dead plant material such as compost, leaves, bark or grass clippings. Inorganic mulches, on the other hand, are made from stones or gravel.
That said, they all have a positive benefit on your plants and the garden in general.
When to mulch?
The ideal time to use mulch is in the spring and autumn. Before adding mulch, you should remove all weeds and water the soil thoroughly. Add a think layer of mulch over the soil to lock the moisture into the soil. Aim to add a thick layer as the denser it is, the more weeds will be suppressed.
Here are our top picks for the best organic garden mulches to keep weeds tamed, boost your soil and allow your plants to flourish!
#1 Garden compost
Likely the easiest to make and one of the best organic garden mulch, garden compost is a superb all-rounder. It is fantastic at retaining moisture, suppressing weeds and soil improvement.
Chop up any garden waste and add in kitchen scraps to your compost bin. Every few months, give the pile a good turn. In six to 12 months, you should have a useable compost.
#2 Newspaper or cardboard
You might not consider newspapers as the best organic garden mulch, however, it’s easily available, 100% biodegradable and good for the soil. For the best results, use five layers or more as newspaper decomposes fairly quickly.
You may want to dampen the newspaper with water to stop it from blowing around and then cover the edges with some soil to hold it in place.
Instead of newspaper, try cardboard, it lasts longs and makes excellent footpaths between vegetable rows.
#3 Composted woodchips
Ideal for improving soil structure as they aid drainage and help it to retain more moisture, composted woodchips are smaller and darker than large woodchips. Also, as a bulky material, woodchips help to keep weeds down, while allowing plants to grow.
#4 Leaf mould
While low in nutrients, leaf mould is an excellent soil conditioner. Simply, bag up leaves in autumn, and wait 12 months, then they should be ready use as mulch around your plants.
Both straw and seedless hay work well as mulch and are particularly good for the vegetable garden. You should spread it on in thick layers as it tends to blow away easily.
#6 Mushroom compost
Often bought as ‘spent’ mushroom compost, it is alkaline, light and easy to use. Given its high pH, it’s ideal for lime-loving vegetables, including brassicas like cabbages and broccoli. That said, avoid using it on lime-hating, ericaceous plants like rhododendrons, camellias and heathers.
#7 Well-rotted horse manure
Packed with nutrients, Well-rotted horse manure retains moisture well. It’s excellent for mulching around plants like roses, pumpkins and squashes. Leave the horse manure to rot for at least two years. Otherwise, it can ‘scorch’ plant leaves and may remove nutrients from the soil.
#8 Grass Clippings
Admittedly, a pile of grass clippings can look untidy. That said, they break down incredibly fast. As one of the best organic garden mulches, grass clippings break down so quickly that they tend to warm up the soil, making them ideal for plants and vegetables that enjoy a nitrogen boost.
Be careful not to pile grass clipping too hight as the grass will “mat” and become oxygen-deprived (anaerobic), meaning it will produce a smelly odour.
What’s the best organic garden mulch?
There’s plenty of opportunities to create the best organic garden mulch within your garden. You could use grass clippings, hay, cardboard or even horse manure!
Whatever material you end up using, start by applying a generous layer to your plants or vegetables, then give it time to be absorbed by the soil. You might want to add another layer of mulch a few months later.
Any downsides of using organic mulch?
Depending on what organic mulch material you use, you could find that more pests appear. Creatures like slugs and snails love mulch as it’s a warm, damp layer of food. So, it’s worth being checking for pests often and dealing with them before it becomes an issue.
Even if you’re using the best organic garden mulch, you might need to apply a second layer and so you’ll need space to store materials. It’s worth having a bin or sacks for mulch behind the shed to ensure you always have some on hand.
That said, the benefits of using the best organic garden mulch far outweigh the downside. Plus it’s a great way to recycle materials within your garden.