The Benefits of Mulching

By Larry Hodgson

Mulching is one of the basic elements of “laidback gardening”. Mulch consists of a layer of usually organic matter about 3 to 4 inches (7–10 cm) thick covering the soil of a garden and thus creating a barrier between the air and its drying effect—and also against the seeds of the weeds being blown in—and the soil where the roots of your plants grow.

If you’ve never gardened with mulch, you will be amazed to discover how mulches—and especially the decomposable kinds—can make it easier to grow plants. Here are the main advantages of decomposable mulches:

  • They keep most weed seeds from germinating;
  • They help keep the soil moister in summer which greatly reduces the need for watering;
  • They absorb excessive moisture at snow melt or after a heavy rain, helping to prevent root rot;
  • Mulches keep the soil cooler in the summer. Even during a heat wave, the soil temperature can be many degrees lower than the air temperature, much to the delight of the plants;
  • They protect the plants’ roots and crown against the extreme cold in winter;
  • The soil warms up more slowly in the spring, which can prevent plants from budding out too early and thus from being damaged in a late frost;
Hands holding a leaf mulch
Leaf mulch. Photo;
  • Mulches enrich the soil by decomposing, indeed, to such an extent that fertilizers often become almost superfluous;
  • They keep the stems and leaves clean. Compare that to exposed soil which tends to coat plants in dust and dirt after a rainfall;
  • They greatly reduce leaf diseases, largely because disease spores remain trapped under the mulch and can’t reach the leaves;
  • Beneficial microbial flora and fauna flourish under organic mulch… and earthworms are on Cloud 9;
  • There is a marked reduction in insects and other pests when mulch is used. This is largely because, under a mulch, the soil is no longer tilled, an action that tends to upset the habitat of the pests’ predators. As the numbers of predators increases, pest populations decrease—even the number of slugs drops! —, although this effect takes a few years to set in;
  • Mulches completely eliminate the need for weeding or hoeing… and it’s the task most gardeners find the most tedious;
  • Mulches protect plants against frost heave, that is, their crown and roots being lifted out of the ground by alternating freezing and thawing during the winter. Under mulch, crowns and roots tend to remain firmly in place, even when the plant is not yet well rooted;
  • Mulches help prevent soil erosion, because they easily let rain penetrate;
  • The soil remains friable, even after many years. That’s because it’s largely the force of rain falling on bare soil that makes it compact and impenetrable. When rain falls on mulch, it’s the spongy mulch that takes the hit, not the soil.

But There are Also Disadvantages

Pine needle mulch in a flower bed.
Pine needle mulch. Photo:

Nothing is perfect in this world and so it is with mulches. Their greatest sin is… they decompose over time and thus disappear, forcing the gardener to “top them up” regularly. But there are also other flaws, including:

  • The soil under a mulch warms up more slowly in spring (note that this can also a plus: see above!) and some plants then come up or bloom a little later than usual. This delay usually clears up with the arrival of summer;
  • Mulches enrich the soil by decomposing, which is detrimental to plants which prefer poor soil; you should normally avoid mulching such plants or else use a mulch that is poor in minerals like conifer needles;
  • They keep the soil moister, to the chagrin of the minority of plants that prefer dry soil. Use only the best aerated mulches with these… again, such as conifer needles;
  • Organic mulches can temporarily use up more nitrogen than they give off, yet plants need nitrogen for healthy growth and may therefore run out. This problem can be solved by applying a slow-release organic fertilizer rich in nitrogen before or after applying the mulch;
  • Plants are unable to self-sow when there is a mulch in place. If this is something you want certain of your plants to do, you’ll have to leave a few spaces free of mulch.

The Best Mulches for Gardening

Ramial chipped wood mulch
Ramial chipped wood mulch. Photo:

The best mulches for use in an active garden (one where you do a lot of planting and harvesting) are organic mulches that break down fairly quickly, because if a mulch remains intact for several years, it ends up filling in with dust and is then no longer very effective. When the layer of mulch thins decreases to less than 2 inches (4 cm), at which point light starts to sneak through the mulch and reach the soil which can allow weed seeds to germinate, the solution is fortunately simple: just add more mulch to bring it back into the 3 to 4-inch (7 to 10 cm) range!

But that does mean that mulches that last for a long time, even those of organic origin, such as bark mulch, cedar mulch and wood mulch in general, including all those tinted mulches that come in various colors, are not very good choices for a flower bed or vegetable garden.

Also, inorganic mulches (river pebbles, decorative stones, marble shards, lava stones, recycled glass mulch, rubber mulch, etc.), essentially permanent, are more decorative than anything else. You certainly do not want to mix them into the soil when you’re gardening!

Helpful Hint: Use readily decomposable mulches in flower beds and vegetable gardens, places where you’ll be frequently digging, planting and harvesting, while long-lasting mulches could be used outside of intensely gardened areas, such as in paths, at the foot of trees, in shrub borders, at the base of hedges, in foundation plantings, etc.

Here are some of the most interesting “decomposable mulches” for active gardening:

  • Compost;
  • Conifer needles* (needles are not rich, so it may help to also apply a slow-release fertilizer when you use them);
  • First cut hay (later cuttings will likely include too many weed seeds);
  • Fragmented rameal wood (BRF, deciduous branches shredded with their leaves);
  • Grass clippings (they should be mixed with another product to lighten them, such as shredded leaves or peat moss; otherwise they can form an impenetrable crust);
  • Plant hulls (peanut, cocoa, buckwheat, coconut, etc.);
  • Sawdust (add nitrogen fertilizer initially, as this product is not very rich).
Applying leaf mulch to a garden
Mulch of shredded leaves. Photo: fresh-basil-com
  • Shredded fall leaves (my favorite mulch: free and very rich in minerals!);
  • Shredded paper or cardboard;
  • Straw (cereal, flax, hemp, etc.);

Mulches: when you learn how to use them, they can make gardening so much easier!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

12 comments on “The Benefits of Mulching

  1. Tree Pruning

    The process of removing unwanted part of the branches from the tree is called pruning.

    Burning is selectively removed unwanted branches and improve the tree’s structure and direct new healthy growth. in other word the removal or reduction of parts of a plant tree or vine that are not requisite to growth or production are no longer visually pleasing or injurious to the health or development of the plant.

    Importance of pruning

    1. Purning removes dead and dying branches and stubs, allowing room for new growth and protecting our property and passer by damage.

    2. it also defers pest and animal infestation and promote the plant’s natural shape and healthy growth.

    3. Pruning is an excellent method of preventative maintenance for both young established plants. a regular bur Pruning schedule protects our plants, family property from injury, pest and damage it is an important part of a long-term maintenance strategy burning trees encourages healthy fruit flower production. regular trimming develops ledge aesthetics and keeps ever green proportioned and dense, such maintenance supports our properties planned layout and appearance by controlling to lent size and shape.

    4. regular pruning reduces the risk of storm damage to structure from broken branches protect our family and friends from falling branches over walkways, driveways, and children’s play area. this practice also helps to control pest, vermin and snakes by reducing their habitat option.

    Type of pruning

    there are three types of pruning exist


    2. topping

    3. raising and reduction


    according to thinning’s procedure it removes a branch from it’s point of origin which can enhance light penetration and manage plant growth.


    this is a drastic process that removes most of the branches down to the trunk. topping is commonly used when young trees to grow in certain way.


    this involves the trimming low hanging branches to create head room for pedestrians, parked car or entry ways.


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  5. Super blog and I have just heard about mulch or mulching but after reading your blog really understood the meaning of mulch and its importance.

  6. You have posted a much important information on mulch and looking more of your blog!! Happy Blogging.

  7. Super blog and I have just heard about mulch or mulching but after reading your blog really understood the meaning of mulch and its benefits

  8. You have posted a much important information on mulch and looking more of your blog!! Happy Blogging.

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