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News Feature for Newsletters, Newspapers and Magazines   United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
P.O. Box 2890
Washington, DC 20013

Benefits of Mulch

Mulching can be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your soil and your plants. If you have not considered mulching your garden in the past, you may want to reconsider.

Mulches are a labor saving device for the gardener. A layer of mulch will help prevent the germination of many weed seeds, reducing the need for cultivation or the use of herbicides. Mulches also help moderate the soil temperature and retain moisture during dry weather, reducing the need for watering. Mulches protect the soil from the impact of raindrops that can cause crusting. Crusting can prevent the germination of seedlings.

While there are many types of mulch, organic mulches such as wood chips, grass clippings, or other locally available materials help improve the soil by adding organic matter as they decompose. They also may encourage the growth of worms and other beneficial soil organisms that can help improve soil structure and the availability of nutrients for plants.

Mulches also can be used to enhance the look of your garden. Many bark mulches provide uniformly rich brown color that contrasts with the plants. The mulch helps keep plants clean by reducing the splash of soil onto leaves during rainstorms, and helps infiltration of the rainfall into the garden.

Here are some considerations when choosing a mulch material.

  • What is your primary objective in using mulch? If you are most interested in weed control in a vegetable garden, a layer of newspaper covered with grass clippings or just grass clippings will work well. However, if you are finishing off a beautiful perennial garden in the front of your house, you probably will want to use something more attractive such as bark mulch.
  • How long do you want the mulch to stay in place? If you are mulching around shrubs that will remain in place for years, you may want to use inorganic mulches such as brick chips, marble chips, or stone. While these will not provide organic matter to the soil, they will be permanent. Note that they are difficult to remove if you change your mind or want to add bulbs or perennials.
  • How much money do you want to spend? Mulching does not need to be expensive. Some communities offer chipped wood or compost to residents. Leaves, newspaper, and grass clippings are inexpensive mulches.
  • How much will you need? To be effective, most organic mulches need to be between 2 and 4 inches thick. Therefore, a 10 feet by 10 feet garden mulched 3 inches deep will require 25 cubic feet of mulch.

For more information on mulching and other Backyard Conservation practices, contact your local conservation district or the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Or call 1-888-LANDCARE (toll free) for a free colorful Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.

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Backyard Conservation is a cooperative project of
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Wildlife Habitat Council
National Association of Conservation Districts



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