Mulching is important in Spanish gardens

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe

The other day we had a group of fellow gardeners touring our garden and discussing the differences between their and our garden. Three comments were common and highlighted why many plants are lost unnecessarily even when watering bills are high.

  1. You can’t see the soil in your garden as you have so many plants.
  2. You have added not removed large rocks from your garden.
  3. You don’t clean out rotting leaves from under your hedges.

They were right and the above are part of our attempt to mulch all plants in the garden. Mulching being for practical purposes the practice and process of covering the soil under and around plants with materials that primarily keep the surface of the soil moist and reduce the chance of weeds growing , but there are in fact a number of other important benefits as listed below. The mulching methods we have used follow.

Benefits of mulching

  • Prevents the surface of the soil from drying out and baking hard.
  • Prevents the formation of minute capillary tubes in hard baked soils through which moisture evaporates from lower levels.
  • Reduces the chance of soil compacting which destroys the essential space between soil particles which fill with moisture and oxygen in healthy soils.
  • Keeps roots cool in hot weather.
  • Protects roots from frost damage during cold winter spells.
  • Reduces chance of weeds germinating and growing.
  • Invisible transportation of rain water – under chippings laid over solid plastic sheeting.
  • Tidy and attractive areas.
  • Organic mulches recycle growth nutrients to the soil.

Useful forms of mulching

The following are some of the things that we do and which are referred to in our gardening books.

  1. Mulch along rows of  raspberry canes with a mix or with layers of comfrey leaves, compost from the compost heap, and grass cutting from a neighbours lawn that has not been treated with any chemical products.
  2. Surround plants and shrubs with small weathered rocks on the rockery and with small rocks over breathable plastic sheeting in shrub/flower beds.
  3. Place stone slabs or large rocks over the roots of climbing plants.
  4. When planting trees place rock slabs over the planted roots five centimetres below the final soil level and then cover with soil.
  5. Plant plants around the edge of large immovable rocks so that the roots grow under the rock seeking cool moisture.
  6. Lay stone chippings over breathable plastic membrane between trees .
  7. Lay areas of stone chippings over solid plastic sheeting to move rain water from areas where it is not need to others where it can be absorbed around plants.
  8. Lay solid stone paths around planted areas with plants along the path which can develop long roots that extend under the path to extract stored moisture.
  9. As an alternative to small rocks a layer on fine volcanic ash chippings can be used on rockeries and to cover the compost in containers.
  10. Expanded clay Tufa balls can also be used for containers in sheltered situations. In very windy places they can blow around when dry.
  11. Plant plants close to create a living mulch that allows no drying sunlight to reach the surface of the soil. In one area of the garden we have allowed a carpet of wild strawberries to develop as a mulch and a warning from drying leaves that the soil is drying out in mid summer.
  12. Leave leaves to rot under hedges and ground cover plants.
  13. Plant vegetable plantlets through holes in sheets of black plastic.
  14. Add a layer of well rotted compost around vegetable plants.
  15. Mulch deeply around roses with fresh or composted horse or mule manure.
  16. Cover the soil with overlapping sheets of newspaper dampened with a dilute flour water mix and cover with soil. Not only will moisture losses be reduced but snails will be attracted to breed under and within the newspaper sheets.

Overall we are doing no more than copy the natural mulching that has gone on for millions of years on the plant covered mountainsides of our valley.