My apologies though – I intended to give you a longer break but WordPress published this despite me. (or my incompetence)
Personally, it’s the weeds that keep me mulching… or absence of them..unlike Sean I hate weeding.
Anne Wareham, editor.
PS It seems Andy has over stretched himself so his (unsolicited) piece has been withdrawn….but don’t despair – instead you can look forward to the popular Alison Levey’s new piece (last one here) …….and… Charles Hawes…
I’m going to assume that because you are reading this on a garden website that you know about mulch and its benefits to soil. Almost everyone does these days, it seems to me, and even most non-gardeners have a vague idea; Mulch is muck put to purpose. It ‘improves’ by being laid over soil in a thick layer, and then worms and rain pull it down into the soil.
On first hearing the word, ‘mulch’, I think it is normal to think it might be rude. This definition from the Online Etymology Dictionary sounds salacious:-
1650s, from M.E. molsh (adj.) “soft, moist” (early 15c.), from O.E. melsc, milisc “mellow, sweet” (cf. Du. mals “soft, ripe,” O.H.G. molawen “to become soft,” Ger. mollig “soft”), from PIE base *mel- “to rub, grind.” As a verb, attested from 1802. Related: Mulched; mulching.
And we make thick blankets with it in order to fertilise. Stop! I’m unsure how to pronounce the ‘u’; Some make it disappear, and others use the ‘u’ in ‘bull’. I prefer the latter because it makes it sound positively filthy.
I wonder if you assume, like I always have, that it is a good thing. I mean necessarily a good thing, and the very stuff of life. I can think of several times when it is necessary; when importing inert and manufactured topsoil which needs to be made a home for worms; Or vegetable growing, when the plants make vast demands on the soils nutrients. I have been a madly lavish ‘mulcher’ in my time but, if there is decent topsoil already in a garden, I am beginning to wonder if I have always been right.
We have just completed a planting and have not used, nor do not intend to use, any mulch at all. It is not quite a first for us, and we have not mulched in a garden with dry and chalky soil and in a garden with wet and heavy soil. Decent topsoil is all that was necessary for success. So should mulching be the exception rather than the rule?
It does normally take some experience and training, but the simplest and easiest way to have happy plants is to understand the soil and the conditions, and then plant accordingly. When it comes to choosing plants the underlying principles do not change (so a damp loving plant will like damp anywhere). So if you describe to a botanist a meadow in England they will be able to give you a list of wild plants that are likely to be growing there (and a list of what will not). The same is true of gardens. Tell a garden maker the specific conditions and the location and she will give you a list of plants that will be likely to succeed.
In my view what partly prevents this sensible approach is plantaholicism; the need to have the plant you want, whatever it takes, whatever the cost. Coupled with the dreadful expectation that any garden we see should have in it plants that we might not have seen before. To fulfil this craving for ourselves (and the expectation of others) we mulch in order to create the greatest chance of survival for the widest range of plants. Instead we could adopt a more scientific approach.
I would perfectly understand if this was a kind of rigour that you could do without, and love new and interesting plants too. If we choose not to mulch we might have to let go of a few things. Last year I decided to hand back vegetable growing to farmers (I didn’t want to take away their business!), contempt of weeds (and personally I do like weeding), of viewing ourselves as soil feeders and the annual pleasure of the chocolate brown blanket mulch.
In return we might find something good. If we get over being plantaholics we might love plants by making them happy, rather than for just being new, and in doing so find a reason to become more thoughtful and long term gardeners. If this is a kind of recovery from addiction should we then assure each other that it is ok to have a common plant, but wonderful to see it growing well, and so well chosen for that place.
And anyway gardens are for people, and whilst this garden is a lovely setting, I didn’t come to see the flowers, I came to see you.