3 Reasons Why You Should Mulch Your Soil
In this episode, we’re going to talk about mulch—specifically 3 reasons why you should mulch your soil. Without mulch soil life will suffer, your plants won’t thrive, and the land will be less abundant. You should mulch your soil if you want to heal the living world. Let’s dive into 3 reasons why you should mulch your soil.
In most habitats bare soil is rare in the living world. You only find it right after a disturbance. A river might drop a load of dirt and gravel after a flood or a gopher might push up a load of dirt making a mound on the ground.
Regardless of how it happens—bare soil is the result of something disturbing the land.
Because soon after that disturbance that bare soil quickly gets covered with living plants and dead organic material like fall leaves.
The exception to this are places where disturbances happen all the time such as ocean beaches and desert dunes and right along rivers. The constant shifting water and sands can keep these areas from being covered by living plants.
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But unfortunately, we often create similar conditions around our plants.
Gardens are cleared and tilled every year. And even the ground around shrubs and trees is often cleared.
I’ve seen people using a leaf blower to blow away pine needles, leaves, and other organic material from around trees and shrubs leaving nothing but bare soil.
Bare soil is then eroded and compacted when the rains come and then baked during the summer.
Instead of clearing the soil, you should mulch your soil.
Mulching the soil with organic material like wood chips and fall leaves or with living plants will not only help your plants thrive but also help heal the living world.
Disturbance is a natural part of the living world but if it happens too often then the result isn’t abundance but degradation.
And we all need to do our part to cultivate abundance for people, plants, and wildlife. Mulching your soil is one way to do this.
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People like you, who want to bring these skills home, to enjoy wildlife, grow more food, and help heal our living world.
Okay, let’s get started.
Further Listening and Reading: Growing with Nature episodes and blog posts with more information about the topics covered in this episode.
- What is Mulching? The Complete Introduction to Mulching
- 5 Types of Mulch – Here’s What You Need to Know
- What is the Soil Food Web and Why it Matters
- Chop-and-Drop: A Quick and Easy Way to Abundance
- What are Perennial Vegetables and How to Get Started
Books and Other Resources
1. You Should Mulch Your Soil to Protect Soil Life
In a previous episode, we explored the soil food web and why it matters. The soil food web is made up of all the life that lives in the soil. And all that soil life creates the conditions your plants need to thrive.
I’ve put a link to it in the resources section of the show notes so make sure to check it out.
Fungi, bacteria, and the rest of the soil life through their actions make nutrients and water available to your plants that your plants wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
The soil life also helps to improve the structure of the soil making it easier for your plant roots to tunnel through it and for water to soak in.
Without a healthy, thriving soil food web filled with a diverse community of soil life your plants won’t thrive. But when you support the soil food web every year your soil will get better.
This is the first reason why you should mulch your soil.
Mulch not only provides food for soil life it also protects soil life from temperature extremes.
When soil is covered by a good layer of mulch it stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. This lets the soil life stay active for much more of the year which in turn speeds up the soil building process.
As the soil life breaks down the mulch will be incorporated into the soil and the nutrients in it will be made available to your plants.
This does mean you will need to replace the mulch as it’s broken down.
In perennial growing areas, this can be done by the natural process of leaves falling in the fall and non-woody non-evergreen plants dying back leaving their stems behind. You can also cut your plants back in the spring to build more mulch—this is called chop-and-drop and I’ve included a link in the resources section of the show notes to a blog post all about chop-and-drop.
In annual growing areas like your kitchen garden chop-and-drop is a great way to build a mulch layer each fall. You can cut up all your dead vegetables and leave them on the soil surface to cover the soil over the fall and winter.
You can also add wood chips or other organic material as mulch if you either don’t want to use chop-and-drop or if that doesn’t provide enough mulch to keep the soil covered.
And don’t forget that you can include perennial plants in your kitchen garden which can help keep the soil covered. Perennial vegetables and even some native vegetables can be mixed in around your annual vegetables creating a diverse polyculture that will keep the soil covered and support more soil life.
2. You Should Mulch Your Soil to Keep the Soil Moist
Keeping your soil covered also helps to keep it moist by slowing down the loss of water throughout the year.
When your soil is covered with mulch evaporation is slowed down. Bare soil by contrast dries out quickly from a combination of sunlight and wind.
But when you keep your soil covered with mulch the wind and sun can’t directly reach the soil which helps to keep the moisture where your plants need it—in the soil.
And as we talked about earlier in this episode, when soil is covered with mulch it stays cooler in the summer.
Keeping the soil cool in the summer not only supports soil life but also helps reduce heat stress for your plants. This can help reduce how much water your plants need to thrive.
Stressed-out plants need more water to deal with that stress.
If you want to keep the soil moist and reduce how much you need to water then you should mulch your soil.
3. You Should Mulch Your Soil to Prevent Erosion
The final reason why you should mulch your soil is to prevent erosion and compaction.
Rains and winds can all erode your soil if it isn’t protected by a layer of mulch. And the last thing you want is for your precious topsoil to be blown or washed away.
You want it to stay and grow—mulch will help keep your topsoil in place and build more soil each year.
Living here in western Washington erosion from our rains is something I’m very aware of—especially since much of our property is sloped.
If I’m not careful to keep our soil covered it could quickly be washed away. The bottom area of our gully has far more topsoil than anywhere else on our property.
Since past owners used to mow and clear the uplands each year over time the topsoil likely got washed down to the low areas.
Now our hills have almost no topsoil—though I’ve stopped mowing most of it except for some paths and I’m slowly planting trees, shrubs, and other plants along with adding mulch. This will rebuild the topsoil on the hills but it takes time.
It’s much better to prevent the loss of topsoil first and keeping the soil covered with mulch will help stop erosion from wind and water.
But even in flat areas, you should still keep the soil covered with mulch. While erosion from wind and rain is reduced on flat areas the soil can still be compacted from the rain.
All those raindrops hitting over and over throughout the rainy season compact the soil which makes it harder for your plants to thrive and also makes it harder for future rains to soak in.
So even if your property is mostly flat you should mulch your soil to prevent erosion and compaction.
Let’s Talk About How You Can Mulch Your Soil
If you want to cultivate abundance for people, plants, and wildlife you should mulch your soil. Mulch will help you supporting soil life, keep your soil moist, and protect the soil from erosion and compaction.
But keeping the soil mulched is often a challenge for people. Luckily there are ways to help make this easier.
The first is to stop clearing fall leaves and other dead plant material. All this material is free mulch provided by the living world. Don’t throw it away—keep it on the ground so it can help you build abundance.
The second way to get the mulch you need is to chop and drop all your prunings and other so-called yard waste. All those branches and stems can be cut up so they lay flat and then dropped on the ground as mulch.
This is a much better use of your prunings and cuttings than tossing it in a yard waste barrel or burning it.
And finally, you can get mulch from your community. Most people are still getting rid of their branches, leaves, and other so-called yard waste. As much as I wish everyone would keep this material on their property I won’t turn down bags of fall leaves or a load of branches.
If you see your neighbors getting rid of their fall leaves ask if you can have them. And look for tree service companies that might have loads of wood chips for you. I’ve gotten free loads of wood chips this way.
Once you start looking for mulch I’ve found that you can find it. Unfortunately, our society tends to view this material as waste. Luckily, you can repurpose it to heal the living world and cultivate abundance where you live.
And stay tuned for our next episode where we will look at tasks you can do this fall to cultivate abundance for people, plants, and wildlife. Mulching is one but there is a lot more you can do this fall to cultivate abundance. And don’t forget to check out the show notes for more links and resources related to this episode.
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