Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Today I have been out in my Cheltenham garden shredding woody prunings to create a kind of mulch. I must admit – our small, electric shredder is not incredibly efficient and doesn't shred the woody side shoots of bay laurel, privet, buddleja and elder quite as well as the packaging claimed and certainly not in the same way that an industrial shredder would (picture the wood chip scene in the film 'Fargo' – that is the kind of shredder one really needs). It is enough, however, to break woody prunings down to allow me to either deposit them back on my borders as a top dressing on the soil, or to empty into the compost bin for breaking down into earthworm rich compost.
In doing so I don't have to rely on the Cheltenham town council collecting my green waste for me or worry about trips to the local recycling centre. I am also creating a cyclical ecosystem in my garden.
Minimum inputs with maximum outputs (the outputs come in the form of vegetables, herbs, flowers and pollen and nectar for birds and insects) and any garden waste gets recycled back into the system. Simple really and a model that we should aim for in all parts of life. Through focusing on the smaller things we will help to create a better, cleaner environment. Do what you can with the resources you have and don't get bogged down worrying about those huge things that we have no control over.
But back to the mulch.
What is mulch and why even bother?
According to the Royal Horticultural Society, mulch is any kind of 'loose coverings or sheets of material placed on the surface of the soil'. It can be anything from black plastic sheeting used to suppress persistent weeds, through to bark chippings, straw or even leaf litter.
Mulches can be used to:
Help control weeds;
Retain moisture levels in the soil therefore reducing the amount of watering needed;
Protect the soil from the elements;
Keep the soil warmer in the winter months;
Provide habitat for our garden wildlife (beetles, frogs, insects etc);
Increase the organic content of the soil.
There are also some disadvantages to mulching. Mulch provides a home for slugs and snails and gives them somewhere to lay their eggs and mulch may prevent light rain from penetrating the soil underneath. Mulch can also delay the warming of soil in spring.
Generally I feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. In nature mulches will naturally form as trees drop their leaves and perennial plants die down at the end of summer. These dead and decaying plant materials provide vital nutrients to the ecosystem they are a part of. In the same way I think that we should allow our own gardens 'waste' products to be recycled back into the garden to return nutrients and organic matter to the soil and keep our gardens healthy.
A garden is ultimately a space that we control and manage, but it is still important to look to nature to learn how to become better gardeners.
Want some help and advice on how to create a beautiful and productive organic garden and how you can work with nature to maintain and care for your outdoor space? Get in touch with Emma at Wild Edge Garden Design.