Mulching can be a great application for any garden or yard. In addition to having nutrients that can benefit most flowers and plants, it can actually work to keep weeds at bay by cutting off their roots from the nutrients that they need.

One of the more commonly misunderstood things about mulching is the difference between it and compost. Understanding the difference between the two will give you a better idea of how to deploy them in your garden. The main difference is in the materials that they are made of, though there are some terminology issues as well.

What Is Mulch and Can it Have Manure?

Mulch is the covering that you put down over the soil surrounding your plants to give them a greater level of protection. Mulching is generally straw, wood chips, or another type of organic item. It can also be permanent or temporary depending on your needs.

Mulches can have manure incorporated into them as well. This is done by organisms living in the soil that will churn and mix the components together to create a stronger gardening product that can improve the level of soil productivity.

Mulch is much more versatile in that it can be just about anything that you lay down over the soil. Even plastic sheeting or discarded newspapers can be used as an effective mulch if applied properly.

How Mulch Is Used

Generally speaking, mulch is laid down over top of either a topsoil or compost in layers around an inch or two in thickness. You would also want to implement your mulch sometime in the early spring or late fall for the best results.

Mulch is meant to help hold moisture in the soil as well as suppress weeds that can become overwhelming and invasive to other plants within the garden. This layer of sheltering is particularly helpful for keeping frost from harming your plants in the spring or late fall as well as evaporation that can leave your plants dried out.

Mulch also helps to moderate the temperature of the soil. By keeping the surface porous, it allows water to more easily reach the roots and even helps to prevent the soil from eroding over time, compromising the health of your plants and flowers.

Things to Consider When Using Mulch

Keep in mind that the majority of mulch comes from ground up wood. This is important to note because green waste mulch can potentially introduce disease or pathogens to your plants, hindering their growth or harming them.

Green waste mulch is made from chipped up trees and should be composted for the best results. It can be all too easy to use chips from a green wood tree in one’s yard, but this is a bad idea. Other than that, mulch makes for an effective way to protect your compost and soil layers.

How Is Mulch Different From Compost?

Mulch and compost tend to be interchangeable terms that are oftentimes misconstrued. Compost is also derived from organic materials, much like mulch is, but it is meant to deliver additional nutrients to your plants and flowers whereas mulch offers protection.

Compost is high in carbon and requires quite a bit of moisture (about 50% or so) to remain effective. Turning the compost pile regularly is required to add oxygen to the central point of the pile. This is what allows the necessary microorganisms to breathe and properly break down all of the feedstock materials.

Compost piles should also have internal temperatures in the 140- to 160-degree range and should be maintained at that level for a bare minimum of at least three weeks. This is meant to cook out up to 99.99% of the seeds and kills just about all of the pathogens. The process of composting can take six months or longer to complete.

Using Mulch and Compost in Tandem

For the most effective growth in a garden bed, it is a great idea to use both compost and mulch in tandem. Plant your flowers or plants in the soil and make sure that they are properly covered before moving on to the next step.

When you are satisfied about the soil level of the plants, you can then lay down your compost. The compost will fertilize your garden bed more thoroughly, providing additional nutrients and the proper microorganisms that your plants need to grow to their fullest potential.

With the compost laid down, you would then add your layer of mulch; about an inch or two thick. The mulch will help to trap in the moisture and nutrients that the compost holds, allowing them to permeate throughout the soil. The mulch will also provide additional protection from the sun, keeping your plants from becoming dried out.

There are some things to be aware of when using compost. The first is that manures generally aren’t composted because they tend to be high in salt content. Salt is quite bad for your plants since they can actually burn the plant. Not only that, manure can introduce weeds into your garden space, with the roots overtaking your plants.

Manures may also have some straw or sawdust (bedding material) in it that, if not turned right, won’t have the right moisture in it. This can introduce diseases into your compost that can do harm to or kill your plants.

Landfill compost is generally the least expensive form of compost and is typically composted well. Just be aware that it can be dangerous to your garden because of what may be in those feedstock materials.

When it comes to keeping your garden healthy and thriving, consider using a layer of compost over your soil followed up by a protective layer of mulch. This should provide your garden bed with the necessary nutrients and protection to grow in even the most adverse of weather conditions. It may take a little extra work, but it will be worth it in the end when your plants are lush and full.

Author

I have a bachelor's degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies...I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.

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