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Advantages, disadvantages to using mulch
URBANA, Ill. — Even though there are many benefits to using mulches in the garden, there are also disadvantages, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“One disadvantage is an increase in insects,” said James Schuster. “There are several insects and insect relatives that find mulches very desirable to breed and live in. Most of the insects are nuisance insects and therefore should be ignored. For earwigs and slugs, control may be necessary.”

On the positive side, organic mulches do much more than add beauty to gardens and foundation plantings.

“Visual appeal is definitely a plus, but organic mulch also maintains a more consistent level of soil moisture, modifies soil temperature fluctuations, aids in weed control, and slowly converts to soil,” he added.

An organic soil, Schuster explained, has between 4 and 7 percent organic matter in it. Good soils have pore spaces for necessary air and water. Continually working mulch into the ground improves porosity and moisture retention. As organic mulch converts to soil, new mulch is easy to add or replace.

“There are inorganic mulches,” he said. “Inorganic mulches such as lava rock or shredded tires do not have the same or as many advantages as organic mulches.”

“Mulches should be applied between 2 and 4 inches deep if the particle sizes are not too large,” said Schuster. “Coarse large bark and rocks may need to be thicker to cut down on light getting through to the soil and encouraging weeds to grow.

“Do not place mulch right against the base of plants. Most plant stems need to dry between rains and watering. There is the possibility that the stems will rot and decay if they stay wet too long.”

Besides using organic matter for mulching, it can be used for paths. Wood chips drain well and can make paths less muddy and improve footing.

“Organic mulches are user-friendly,” he said. “Mulching can also help to visually tie your gardens together.”

This farm news was published in the April 12, 2006 issue of Farm World.