Mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of soil. Reasons for applying mulch include conservation of soil moisture, improving fertility and health of the soil, reducing weed growth and enhancing the visual appeal of the area.
Mulch is usually, but not exclusively, organic in nature. Mulch is used both in commercial crop production and in gardening, and when applied correctly, can dramatically improve soil productivity.Many materials are used as mulches, which are used to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, suppress weed growth, and for aesthetics. They are applied to the soil surface, around trees, paths, flower beds, to prevent soil erosion on slopes, and in production areas for flower and vegetable crops. Mulch layers are normally 2 inches or more deep when applied.
They are applied at various times of the year depending on the purpose. Towards the beginning of the growing season, mulches serve initially to warm the soil by helping it retain heat which is lost during the night. This allows early seeding and transplanting of certain crops, and encourages faster growth. As the season progresses, mulch stabilizes the soil temperature and moisture, and prevents the growing of weeds from seeds. In temperate climates, the effect of mulch is dependent upon the time of year they are applied and when applied in fall and winter, are used to delay the growth of perennial plants in the spring or prevent growth in winter during warm spells, which limits freeze thaw damage.
The effect of mulch upon soil moisture content is complex. Mulch forms a layer between the soil and the atmosphere preventing sunlight from reaching the soil surface, thus reducing evaporation. However, mulch can also prevent water from reaching the soil by absorbing or blocking water from light rains.
In order to maximise the benefits of mulch, while minimizing its negative influences, it is often applied in late spring/early summer when soil temperatures have risen sufficiently, but soil moisture content is still relatively high. However, permanent mulch is also widely used and valued for its simplicity, as popularized by author Ruth Stout, who said, "My way is simply to keep a thick mulch of any vegetable matter that rots on both sides of my vegetable and flower garden all year long. As it decays and enriches the soils, I add more."
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