Leaf mould is another way of enriching our soils.
Leaf mould is just what it sounds like – fully decomposed leaves. Often we have more leaves than we can use in our compost, particularly in autumn. Dry leaves can take a lot longer to decompose than other compost ingredients. It is better to compost them separately, especially when there are deciduous trees in the garden providing us with so many at once. Leaf mould is an excellent mulch, a nutrient-rich soil conditioner and good addition to seedling mixes.
Simply pile your leaves in a sheltered, inconspicuous part of the garden and leave them for about two years. Or pack them in black bin bags, make a couple of holes in the sides for aeration and tuck them away until rotted. Or put them into a container where they can be turned every month. Even not fully decomposed, I dip into my leaf mould regularly to mulch a new seedling bed or cover up an area which is looking a little bare.
And that brings us to mulching, Adding organic matter to the surface of the beds is known as mulching. It is one of the simplest things to do yet it makes a world of difference to your garden.
A mulched surface:
· Regulates the temperature of the soil, keeping it cooler in summer and warmer in winter
· Reduces weeds, as long as the mulch is weed free and deep enough to prevent weed germination or smother existing weeds
· Prevents the surface of the soil from cracking or eroding
· Prevents rain water from running off the soil and uselessly disappearing into a storm water drain
· Prevents water from splashing up onto plants, helping slow the spread of soil-borne diseases
· Retains moisture
· Prevents the soil from crusting or compacting
· Increases and strengthens root growth
· Creates a natural forest floor environment
· Provides food for earthworms which in turn improve the health of the soil
· Improves and adds nutrients to the soil.
When you look at this list of benefits – how can you possibly not mulch!
A variety of materials can be used as mulch – some people even use newspaper. I prefer using organic mulches such as compost, leaf mould, grass clippings, leaves from the autumn creepers and clippings from my shrubs – especially artemisia, sage and lavender, which constantly need trimming. Artemisia has the added benefit of repelling bugs, which hate its smell. Other organic mulches include hay, shredded bark and nutshells. Inorganic mulches such as plastic or gravel can be used; however, the advantage of organic mulches is they improve the soil as they break down.
Mulch should be applied when seedlings are about 3–5 cm high. Depending on the material, mulch can be anything from 5 -15 cm thick. Fresh grass clippings should only be about 3–5 cm thick, otherwise they become dense and slimy, preventing water and air from reaching the soil. If you want a thicker layer, mix the clippings with dried leaves first. Mulch piled against stems can cause them to rot, so keep a circle of about 3–5 cm clear around stems. For larger plants with woody stems, leave a mulch-free zone of about 10–15 cm to prevent the bark decaying. Always weed and water the beds well before applying mulch.
From next week, I will start talking about sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings into your vegetable garden.
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