Should you put mulch around potted plants?


bark chip mulch in a potted plant

Like many other things, mulching is usually associated with outdoor gardening. Mulching is used for many reasons in your backyard garden, but it can also be used for many reasons in your potted plants. Potted plants already provide an essential means to continue gardening with limited space, but there’s still a lot that can be done to make them even better.

You should definitely mulch around potted plants and utilize leaves, wood chips, and other organic materials for mulching. Mulching can benefit your potted plants, as mulching can aid plants in suppressing weeds and retain nutrients and moisture. Just make sure to prep the mulch accordingly.

So do not worry about anything concerning mulching. This post will highlight the benefits of mulching, what to use to mulch, and a few tips to help you get the best out of mulching.

Mulching Potted Plants

Container gardening is an activity that can add lots of aesthetics to any home, but it can serve a practical purpose, too, such as reducing the amount of space required for gardening. So gardeners can produce a wide variety of vegetable crops in containers which can be set just about anywhere, from on the balcony to spot right outside the kitchen door.

Mulching is the usage of organic or inorganic material and applied to soil to conserve soil moisture, better absorption of soil nutrients, better soil health, and decrease the chances of weed growth.

While mulching is a must for many outdoor plants, from trees to vegetables, to grow properly, it is also very much needed for potted plants that are kept indoors. To better understand mulch, I have written an article on the best mulches for the garden. While it contains mulch types, which we will be talking about in the next sections, it also covers tutorials in making them and the lesser-known inorganic mulch types.

Mulch may be made from materials like grass clippings, leaves, sawdust, and pine needles which can decompose and release a wealth of nutrients into the soil.

Tips for Mulching Potted Plants

placing wood chip mulch around a tree

While mulching has many benefits for houseplants, it may not be that way if not done properly. So to get the best out of mulching, these tips will be good to follow.

  • To avoid rot, do not pack mulch high around houseplant stems, particularly in the winter.
  • Keep in mind that the typical outdoor mulch may be too heavy. Make the layers of mulch fairly thin, allowing for proper air circulation and preventing plants from becoming overly moist. This helps reduce the presence of bacteria. Adding too much mulch may keep the soil too wet and cause the plant to rot, an inch or so would be fine.
  • Also, arrange the materials in such a way as to make sure the sun can reach the plants. Do not overstack and put thick piles of leaves, as this will not allow for proper sunlight intake for the plants. This may also be dangerous as big piles of mulch may cause fire.
  • To get the best out of the mulch, you should shred the materials if possible. It is also best to let them dry first. For instance, dried leaves as mulch break down more quickly and shred easily. Consider mowing over the leaves to shred them and distributing the shredded parts evenly over the grass.
  • If the mulch is too much over the soil, it is easy to overwater plants. To avoid moisture stress, move mulch aside for a moment, exposing the soil so you don’t overwater. Make sure plants have proper drainage too. 

Also, please be reminded that not all plant containers may need mulch, as only those with a lot of exposed topsoil to air may need it.

Materials You Can Mulch With

Mulches for houseplants can be made from both natural and artificial substances. This is unlike outdoor plants, giving you a wider set of materials to use as mulch.

Tea Tree Mulch

For this, tree mulch pieces are ground up into a fibrous, rich mulch that you can use on any plant. Tea tree mulch in gardens can be used to do almost everything other types of mulch can, including preventing weeds from crowding in.

Leaf Mulch

placing bark mulch around conifers

This is one of the more famous mulching types as it calls for recycling the already present leaves in your backyard to improve your landscape. Applying leaf mulch helps aid with soil temperature management as it has the ability to keep the soil warm in the winter and cooler during the summer months. Leaf mulching also gives the benefit of boosting soil fertility, which in turn reduces the need for fertilizing.

Wood Chip Mulch

Wood chip mulch is a famous mulch choice as it is known to break down slower than most organic mulch types, meaning it can be used for over a year when placed in the garden. This process also allows for the release of nutrients in the soil.

However, wood chip mulch may cause soil pH alteration, a higher fire hazard mulch, and allelopathic potentials.

This mulch type is often looked into by gardeners side by side with leaf mulch, so much so that I needed to make an article on leaf mulch vs. wood chip mulch. This covers the benefits and considerations of both mulch types side by side for your specific gardening needs.

Lucerne Hay Mulch

potato growing through straw

This mulch type is great. However, it is more expensive than its counterparts. The hay utilized for this mulch is rich in many essential plants, making it a great mulch choice.

Its benefits are the following:

  • high levels of protein, potassium, calcium, iron, and other minerals
  • it increases nitrogen content in soil
  • stimulates healthy root growth
  • prevents root disease and also feeds worms that help keep soil healthy

However, if you have a tight budget, it is best to look at the cheaper mulch alternatives or consider making your own from excess organic and inorganic material in your area.

Pine bark Mulch

This mulch type comes from the shredded bark of pine trees. You can also mix them with fir and spruce to further suit the soil.

Pine bark mulch can come in finely shredded or doubled processed forms or in pine nugget form, larger in size.

Gardeners often prefer this mulch type as it lasts longer than most organic mulches. However, pine bark mulch is rather light, so you should try to incorporate it with something heavier so that the bark won’t be easily moved by wind and rain.

Stone mulches

Stone mulches, including gravel and crushed rock, serve more use for weed suppression and water permeability. They are not useful for providing the soil with nutrients and the likes.

Newspaper and Cardboard

Newspaper and cardboard are abundant, cheap, and very effective as mulch. To get the best results, make sure you add ample water before you lay and keep it damp, particularly in summer.

Dont use colored or shiny paper products in your potted plants or anywhere else, as they contain heavy metals that can cause plant growth problems.

Shredded newspapers perform much like grass and hay. However, shredded and folded newspapers lack stability in windy conditions and need to be supported with other mulch materials. Cardboard is much more stable, and some allow for good airflow. Worms also like to eat cardboard, turning it into rich humus.

Coir Mulch

This natural mulch type comes from the exterior shell of coconuts, from their husks. While coir mulch can be applied easily, it is best to soften them in water for 15 minutes before adding them to the soil.

Sawdust Mulch

wood shavings

You cannot directly add sawdust into your soil, as it needs nitrogen to decompose. When it does draw the nitrogen out of the soil, it causes weaker plant roots.

You can solve this problem by adding organic nitrogen into the soil when adding sawdust mulch.

Other mulch types

You can use many other kinds of mulches, from pebbles and stones to straw and sugarcane mulch. They all play similar roles but may differ only slightly occasionally.

For instance, hay, sugarcane, and straw all break down easily, feeding worms and microorganisms in the potting mix as they do.

The harder mulches help suppress weed better and are more difficult to be affected by nature. All in all, you should make sure the plants are getting the best conditions with the mulch.

Conclusion on mulching with potted plants

Potted plants are already beneficial to the gardener. Asides from providing aesthetic qualities to the home, they also help create space so that your gardening can be easier. Like outdoor mulch, the benefits are the same, from improving the soil quality to suppressing weeds to regulating water flow and making the garden look better.

Make sure to follow the tips which have been highlighted in this post so that the mulch can have an even better effect on your potted plants, and be sure to keep the plants under the right conditions which the mulch will favor, and not simply placing mulch that may not prove beneficial to the plants.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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