As a gardener, you want to make sure your garden is in the best shape possible. You do many things to make this so. The avid gardener spends quality time amending his or her soil and getting ready for the growing season. Compost, manure, and fertilizer are added to the soil.
Something else you could do is mulch. There are all sorts of ways to mulch, and one interesting way is to use leaves. Leaf mulch, like many other types, has its benefits, but just how useful is it in dealing with weeds?
Leaf mulch can stop weeds as it blocks out the light from reaching the soil surface. This prevents weed seeds from germinating. 6 inches of leaf mulch should be added to achieve the desired results.
Leaf litter mulch in gardens has numerous attributes and mulching with leaves including preventing weed. This post will highlight just how useful leaf mulch is and provide all the information you need to make it work well for your garden, as well as possible alternatives to prevent weed in your garden
What is Leaf Mulching
Mulch is a layer of material that is applied to the surface of soil, and is used for a wide variety of activities, such as to trap and absorb soil nutrients, conservation of soil moisture, improving fertility & health of the soil, decreasing weed growth and enhancing the visual appeal of the area.
There are many types of mulch, but we will focus on leaf mulch. It is comprised of exactly what it says, leaves. It is a form of organic mulch and will ultimately decompose. So exactly how is leaf mulch good for plants?
The benefits of leaf litter mulch are abundant. Leaf Mulching is a simple and effective way to recycle leaves and improve your landscape. It improves the soil’s fertility and its organic content, as it decomposes.
Applying leaf mulch also modifies soil temperatures to keep soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. It improves soil fertility, which reduces the need for fertilizing.
Leaf mulch can aid in retaining soil moisture too, lessening irrigation needs, and importantly, leaf mulches also suppress weeds, reducing the amount of weeding the gardener has to do.
How to Apply Leaf Mulch
To get the best out of the leaf mulch, you should shred the leaves. It is best to let them dry first. Dried leaves as mulch break down more quickly and shred easily.
You can use a rake to gather them around. The best way to break up the leaves is to mow over them, shredding them and distributing the leaves evenly over the grass.
Also of importance is to weed the soil first. Lay the mulch down on soil that is already weeded. Also, lay down a thick-enough layer to discourage new weeds from coming up through it.
It can take a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch to completely discourage weeds, although a 2- to 3-inch layer is usually enough in shady spots. To use the dried leaves as mulch, spread them at a rate of 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm.) around the base of trees and shrubs; and 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) over perennial beds.
For vegetable gardens, a thick layer of leaves placed between the rows function as a mulch and an all-weather walkway that will allow you to work in your garden during wet periods.
If you know that a garden bed is filled with weed seeds or perennial roots, you can use a double-mulching technique to prevent a weed explosion. Set plants in place, water them well, then spread newspaper and top it with mulch.
Moderation is key. break up the leaves in such a way as to make sure the sun can reach the plants. You don’t want thick piles of leaves, which will prevent the sunlight from getting through, not letting the plant get essential sunlight and retaining moisture that will kill the grass underneath.
This leaves a thick layer of dead leaves can also cause fungal issues later on. Make sure you can see the grass with only about 10-20% leaf coverage.
Using leaf litter for mulch is an easy way to recycle the debris in your yard.
Alternatives to Leaf Mulching
Using leaf litter as mulch has many benefits, but you can do use many other items to mulch to prevent weeds, and you can try other gardening tips to prevent them from disturbing your garden.
Composting is essentially a way of speeding up the natural process of decomposition by which organic materials are broken down and their components returned to the soil. It is a means of recycling almost any organic wastes.
You can simply compost the dead foliage of leaves. You can use a composter or simply a pile of leaves. Rake the leaves into a pile in an area gets wet occasionally and let the pile sit for about 2 years, so it will become rich, crumbly compost.
Keep the leaves moderately moist and turn the pile at least weekly. It’s best to cut them up to fine pieces for quicker composting. Also, mix in some grass clippings to add nitrogen.
Keeping the pile warm, moist and aerated is very important and will help the fine shreds break down quickly for fast compost that will benefit the whole garden.
Planting cover crops:
Also known as green manure, cover crops are grown on unused soil with the intent of tilling them in and letting them decompose. The roots keep the soil loose, and the plants suppress weeds.
You could also mulch with another variety of items. There are many kinds of mulch, from organic to inorganic. Each has its special advantages and there is not one recommended over another in some cases. All these have the function of suppressing weeds however.
If you would like to know more about cover crops, I wrote a detailed article on it and you can view that here
For this, sections of trees are ground up into a fibrous, rich mulch that you can use on any plant. Tree mulch in gardens can be used to do almost everything other types of mulch can, including preventing weeds from crowding in by acting as a physical barrier to weed growth.
It prevents weed seeds from reaching the soil and also prevents weeds already in the soil from getting the sun they need to grow.
Pine bark Mulch:
Pine bark mulch, as the name suggests, is made from the shredded bark of pine trees. To make it more suitable for the soil, other items like fir and spruce may be added into pine bark mulch.
Pine bark mulch comes in many forms, from finely shredded or doubled processed to larger chunks called pine nuggets. They tend to last longer than most organic mulches.
However, pine bark mulch is very lightweight. This makes it inappropriate for slopes, as the bark can be easily moved by wind and rain.
Lucerne Hay Mulch:
Lucerne hay is great for mulch. It is however more expensive than other types of mulch. Because the hay is so rich in many essential elements, it makes great mulch.
Benefits of lucerne mulch include high levels of protein and many important minerals, including potassium, calcium, iron, and others. It increases soil nitrogen.
It also stimulates healthy root growth and prevents root disease Feeds worms that help keep soil healthy, and importantly, it helps suppress weeds.
Wood Chip Mulch:
Using wood chips has the added advantage of increasing nutrients in soil over time mainly because it is organic and will slowly break down, releasing nutrients to the soil.
It, however, has some downsides such as altered soil pH, allelopathic potentials, disease transfer, increased pest activity and, of course, is a fire hazard.
Coconut fibre, or coir, is a natural waste product resulting from the processing of coconuts and comes from the outer shell of the coconut husks. Although coir mulch is easy to apply, it’s necessary to soften them first by soaking them in water for at least 15 minutes.
Some people don’t trust the use of sawdust down as mulch in their garden shave because it is thought to be detrimental to plants. This is however not the case. Sawdust needs nitrogen to decompose.
It will draw nitrogen out of the soil and away from your plants’ roots, making them weaker.
This is more of a problem if you incorporate the sawdust directly into the soil than if you use it as a mulch. The best way to prevent nitrogen loss is simply to add extra nitrogen when applying it.
There are all sorts of ways you could mulch, but leaf mulch is very ideal for preventing, as well as providing nutrients to your plants. Using leaf mulch enriches the soil and perpetuates the cycle of life by renewing plants It is also a cheap solution.
It is what nature gives you for free. So find a way to turn your leaves to something more useful than simply throwing them away. They help keep weeds out and you can incorporate them in more ways than one as has been outlined in the post.
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Remember folks, you reap what you sow