Choosing the Right Mulch7th February 2018 • In The Garden • Daniel Carruthers
Now that I’m getting on with tidying the borders, it makes sense to apply a mulch at the same time. Leave it much longer and it will be far trickier to spread the mulch amongst the growing plants. But what to use?
A conversation with Tom Brown, the head gardener at Parham House in West Sussex – and Henry Macaulay who works with him – has caused me to have a rethink. I’ve generally spread as much homemade compost as possible over the flowerbeds. However, Tom and Henry’s observations about some recently replanted borders at Parham mean I may not be so liberal with the compost in future. Their borders consist of four quadrants and rather than tackle them all at once, they replanted two one year, followed by two the next. They mulched the first two beds with compost, but not the second two – and found that the unmulched quadrants grew sturdier, more floriferous plants, while the mulched quadrants grew sappier, taller plants with fewer flowers. They are now considering using something less nutrient-rich that will suppress annual weeds without overfeeding the borders.
Tom had an interesting perspective on the use of compost. Now that all gardens, large or small, are encouraged to turn every bit of green waste into compost, we need somewhere to spread it, so everything tends to get a generous layer – but it may be that some plants don’t need such a rich diet. I’m now going to use the majority of my compost on the vegetable plot and take the opportunity to reduce my leafmould mountain by spread a 5cm layer on the borders and in the woodland area. It’s a win/win situation, because then I will have somewhere to put all the leaves collected this winter. Although leafmould is low in nutrients, it is high in organic matter and will improve the soil structure and help moisture retention. If you don’t have a huge heap of leafmould, soil improver is the stuff to buy. For aesthetic reasons (i.e. not essential) I will add a layer of Strulch – the mineralised straw mulch www.strulch.co.uk – to the borders and spread composted bark in the woodland.