Chris and John located nice sized stones in the fields and after purchasing topsoil began the task of building a rock garden. They carefully situated the rocks and added soil to achieve a pleasing effect.
Naturally she is thrilled to have another garden where she can plant a wide variety of perennials and began this endeavour last year. Her Calendula, Lamium, Chrysanthemums to name a few have just settled into their new home.
As the season progressed Chris noticed weeds setting up shop and watering her plants was becoming an increasingly enormous chore. To combat this problem she decided to mulch the area. Mulch is a layer of bulky organic matter which is placed on the soil around the stems.
There are many positive benefits for mulching. The soil is kept moist in summer reducing the need to water. It is also kept cooler than soil without a mulch, this cool and moist root zone promotes active growth. The soil is kept warmer than uncovered ground in winter and is a definite benefit for many plants. The soil structure is improved as humus is added, worm activity is increased and surface capping by rain is eliminated. Some mulch provides a small amount of plant food but this is insufficient to meet the needs of most plants. Growth of annual weeds is suppressed and weeds which break through are easily removed by hand.
Peat is widely available and reasonably inexpensive for small areas. It has a natural look, but when dry it tends to blow about or forms a cake which is difficult to wet. Sphagnum peat helps to maintain acid conditions around lime-haters.
Bark or Cocoa Shell
Bark is a better choice than peat. The chips should be half inch to two inches long. Cocoa shell is a good alternative but can be smelly when wet. Use them in the same way as peat, both provide an attractive cover and will last on the surface for two to three years.
Manure is less attractive than peat or bark as a surface cover, but it is available very cheaply and is the best soil improver of all. It must be well-rotted and quality from an unknown source can be a problem. Annual topping up is necessary.
Garden compost is not only free it also gets rid of grass clippings, stem prunings, etc. Like manure it provides some nutrients and improves soil structure as well as acting as an insulator, but is usually less effective. It must be good quality.
Straw is easy and cheap to obtain in rural areas and was widely used in past times. It is rather unsightly around plants in beds and borders and it poses two problems. Weed seeds are often present and it is necessary to apply a nitrogen rich fertilizer at the same time.
Old Growing Compost
Spent peat compost has the virtues and limitations of peat with the added value of having some nutruients present. Examples include the contents of old growing bags, spent potting compost and spent mushroom compost.
Short grass clippings from the lawn can be used as a shallow mulch around plants. Top up as necessary in summer. Do not use if a weedkiller has been applied or if it contains weeds.