Mulching, Composting, and Fertilizing
Mulch, compost, and fertilizer are powerful tools for keeping your garden healthy and beautiful. These three strategies are essential elements in the practice of growing and cultivating crops and plants. It's important to understand the nature of each of them so you can determine the best methods to use throughout your landscaping. There are various factors to consider when determining the most appropriate strategy. Then can range from the climate where you live to the type and composition of your landscape soil.
Organic materials (straw, leaves, hay, wood chips, etc.) that are commonly put on the top surface of the soil to reduce weed growth. There are many different types of mulch that can be made of a variety of organic and inorganic material. Whether you choose organic or inorganic materials is generally a matter of preference. Inorganic materials are usually preferred as they don't compete for natural resources and nutrients (e.g. stones, rocks, gravel) while organic materials improve soil health and structure.
There are a couple benefits from using mulch:
If utilized correctly, mulching can be a substantial time-saver when it comes to garden maintenance as it cuts down time and effort with watering, weeding, and fighting pests. The result is an overall healthier garden of flowers, vegetables, and fruits.
Common types of mulch:
Grass clippings - This is usually a readily available nitrogen-rich fertilizer as most properties have lawns. It's also a good idea to use this as lawn fertilizer.
Compost - Leftover compost can be repurposed as mulch. If it's slightly moist, it can help keep plants healthy and nutrients in the soil. To keep the compost from drying out and biologically active, it may make sense to use it as an underlying layer and put another type of mulch on top.
Wood clips and shredded leaves - These can be easily purchased from local garden centers or you can contact a local tree company to see if they have leftover wood chips. For shredded leaves, you can take a lawn mower and run them over fallen leaves on your property. Both are great options for shrub borders, walkways, flower gardens, share gardens, and woodlands. However, these may not be the best choice for seasonal plants that require digging on a regular basis.
Plastic mulch - You've probably seen this before and wondered what it was. Plastic mulch consists of black plastic film that is spread tightly over the top of the soil. The plastic transfers heat from the sun to everything underneath, resulting in a microclimate that is, on average, 3 degrees warmer than a garden with no mulch. It's particularly effective for vining crops as it stays dry and warm. Another option is infrared transmitting (IRT) plastics and while they're more expensive, they may be worth the investment. Make sure to use soaker or drip hoses since water can't go through plastic, rendering rainwater a useless source for hydration.
Hay or straw - Another great organic option for preventing weeds and retaining moisture in the soil. If you choose hay, be sure to select weed and seed-free options and ensure that placement is far enough from plant stems to minimize potential rodent and slug damage.
Landscape fabrics - Unlike plastics, landscape fabrics AKA geotextiles allow water and air to go through its surface and into the soil underneath. The downside to using this type of mulch is its poor durability under the sun. You can extend the life of landscape fabrics by covering it with another layer of mulch. This isn't the worst idea as landscape fabrics are generally not too visually pleasing.
Decomposed organic material that should be placed beneath the soil and as close to the roots as possible to eliminate and reduce toxins present in the soil. While you can purchase pre-made compost in the store, it's also worth considering the resource-efficient strategy of making your own compost at home. Regardless of which strategy you choose, make sure your selected compost has an even, smooth texture that is darker in color and gives off an earthy scent. If the compost isn't smooth, there is a higher probability of organic compounds being present that have yet to decompose. These substances may steal nutrients away from your plants.
The application of compost of simple. Simply select the sections of your yard to compost and dig up a couple layers of soil. Once you're near the bottom and are relatively close to the plant's roots, pour in the compost and cover it back up with the soil that was previously removed. As a simpler, low-effort alternative, you can also massage the compost into the dirt with your hands from the top.
Compost is an effective and powerful addition to yard and gardens due to its effectiveness in conditioning the soil, allowing plants to grow in the most optimal conditions. As toxins are removed over time, soil nutrients become more available and accessible while the organic compost itself is returned to the soil, completely the standard soil cycle.
Chemical or natural substances sprayed or applied to plants and crops to assist in growth. The main purpose of fertilizer is to ensure that your plants are receiving essential nutrients and supplement any deficiencies. Here are some of the main nutrients that play a critical role in your plants' health:
Be sure to have a strong understanding of soil composition, plant types, and the use cases of each nutrient before you select which fertilizer to use. As an example, phosphorus promotes the growth of strong roots, potassium encourages stronger stem growth, and nitrogen serves a similar purpose for leaves. As you can see, each nutrient serves a specific purpose.
Once you understand which nutrients need to be supplemented, it's time to select your fertilizer. If you only need one nutrient, you can utilize single nutrient fertilizers. There are nitrogen-based solutions (usually urea, ammonium nitrate, or calcium ammonium nitrate), phosphorus-based solutions AKA superphosphates, and potassium-based solutions (e.g. Muriate of Potash).
For multi-nutrient solutions, there are 3 combo fertilizers: PK, NK, and NP. PK contains phosphorus and potassium, NK contains nitrogen and potassium, while NP contains nitrogen and phosphorus. For even more complex solutions, you may choose to use NPK which contains all three nutrients from above.
Finally, if you opt for organic fertilizers, you should know that these are created from living or originally living substances. There are a wide variety of substances used to create these: plant waste, compost, biosolids, animal waste, feather mill, hides, hoofs, horns, and more. Occasionally, organic fertilizers that are purchased in stores may contain organic additives such as ground seashells, kelp, rock powders, cultivated microorganisms, and more.