*This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
The question of whether mulch is good for plants may be a hard one to answer. The answer is both simple and complex. Agricultural waste such as wood chips and compost is an excellent alternative, but not all mulches are beneficial to plants. Living mulches are often more beneficial to plants than synthetic materials, and they contain many nutrients that are necessary for the growth of a plant.
If you’re concerned about the negative impact of plastic mulch on plants, read this article to learn more about alternative mulches and alternatives.
The benefits of living mulch are numerous, and the same can be said for vegetables. Loose leaf lettuce, for example, is an excellent living mulch for vegetables. It not only acts as a weed barrier, but is also a good eater. And unlike other crops, lettuce does not compete with vegetables, so mulching your garden with it will mean less cultivating, watering, and maintenance. And your crops will benefit from the reduced need for fertilizer and pesticides.
In addition to being good for plants, living mulch can also add organic matter to the soil over time, allowing it to act as a giant sponge that slowly releases water when it’s needed. Most living mulches take water from plants when they’re growing and hold it when they’re not. This means that corn grown in mowed hairy vetch, for instance, had a hard time getting enough water during its first four weeks. After a couple of weeks, the soil had equalized moisture levels.
One advantage of living mulch is that it promotes beneficial insects such as bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. These insects provide pollen, nectar, and habitat to plants. Studies also show that incorporating living mulch into a garden can increase pollinator diversity and pest predation rates. In addition to providing good nutrients to the soil, living mulches also improve soil health. After a while, the organic matter and nutrients from these mulches decompose, adding nutrients to the soil.
Depending on the climate, living mulch is an ideal mulch for your garden. You can plant them any time of year and they will shade the soil, suppress weeds, and feed the soil. It will also make the planting process easy, saving you time and money. Just remember to select plants that can withstand foot traffic. This way, you’ll be reducing the need for weedkillers or pesticides.
Another advantage of living mulch is its ability to help manage weeds. One study used rye and hairy vetch residues, which covered 90% of the soil, and reduced weed density by 78%. This is because living mulches smother weeds by utilizing all of the soil’s water and nutrients. In this way, you’ll be starving weeds while preventing them from overrunning the garden. Ideally, you’ll want a mixture of grasses and legumes. Also, when temperatures get below freezing, the weeds will die.
Alternatives to wood mulch
While most of us associate wood mulch with the appearance of trees, there are many alternative materials that can be used as plant mulch. Cocoa bean hulls are one such organic material. These decompose to produce a rich mulch that retains moisture and regulates soil temperature. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, cocoa bean hulls are also effective at keeping soil moisture. You can also crush them to use as mulch on your plants.
If you’re not into wood mulch or don’t have a backyard, you can also use rocks as a plant mulch alternative. Rocks also help keep the soil from becoming overly compacted and prevent eroding. Wood chips, meanwhile, are another good alternative to wood mulch. They contain several species of tree bark and leaves, as well as various chemicals that enhance the nutrient content of the soil. They’re also a good choice for mulching around trees and shrubs, because they won’t allow weeds to penetrate the mulch layer.
However, wood mulch is not aesthetically appealing. It is an ideal habitat for insects and pests. In addition, it is also expensive. Many homeowners don’t have time to apply wood mulch seasonally, and often find that it’s more expensive than necessary. Fortunately, there are several alternatives to wood mulch for plants that are equally as beneficial and less expensive. You can even save money by replacing your wood mulch with a synthetic version.
As a cheap alternative, newspaper is another natural material you can use for mulching your plants. While it may not be the most beautiful choice, it’s an eco-friendly material, and it’s a great way to recycle old newspapers. Paper shredders usually cost around $50 and can handle larger amounts of paper and cardboard. Then, you can simply use newspapers and cardboard for mulch, and you’ll be doing your part to save the environment.
Another alternative to wood mulch for plants is bark. Bark is a naturally deterrent for insects and fleas, and can help to keep your plants healthy. Wood chips decompose quickly and are an excellent way to provide nutrients to your plants. However, this type of mulch may need to be replaced more often than some of the other types of mulch, so keep that in mind before deciding which one to choose for your plants.
Natural alternatives to plastic mulch
While black plastic is widely used in landscaping, there are natural alternatives. For example, wood chips are a more natural looking mulch and geotextiles can be used as well. They also require a thin cover, but they shade out minimal light. A good mulch should be biodegradable and compatible with organic production standards. Geotextiles are widely used by gardeners and farmers because they are lightweight, flexible, and easy to remove.
Wood chips and branches are usually available for free from a local tree-removal service or recycling depot. They also provide an excellent barrier between plants and soil, and they can help with weed control. Organic systems depend on mulch for weed control, and hand-weeding can add to the cost of growing crops. Plastic mulch can be particularly effective in controlling weeds, though research on this claim has been mixed.
Plastic mulch is a major issue for landfills, which are struggling to deal with the waste. While it may improve yield, it has many downsides, including increased labor costs, the need to separate it, and a greater carbon footprint. Furthermore, black plastic mulch must be removed after the growing season ends, which can be cumbersome and expensive. And, unlike compost, plastic mulch is not recycled and often ends up in landfills, adding to the problem. In addition to being costly, black plastic mulch is also unsightly.
Biodegradable plastics are becoming increasingly popular, but their lifecycle is not clear. Biopolymers often begin as renewable resources but can be formed into specific end products after they enter the ecosystem. Consumers should then dispose of these materials in a biowaste collection site or compost them. Once composted, the materials are metabolized and leave behind carbon dioxide and water. Biodegradable plastic mulch may affect the properties of soil and microclimate, which can cause the soil to decompose in an unintended manner.
Using a degradable material to mulch plants can be advantageous. It protects soil from wind and water erosion. It also aids the plant in retaining nutrients in its root zone, allowing it to use them more efficiently. Furthermore, paper mulches are a readily available and inexpensive resource, and have frequently been trialed. Unfortunately, they can decompose too quickly. If left on the surface, plastic mulches may interfere with the growth of the next crop.
Problems with plastic mulch
A major problem with using plastic mulch is the possibility of heat buildup between the mulch and soil. Loose plastic can allow hot air to penetrate the plastic and move through the holes in the plants, leading to stem girdling and transplant desiccation. It’s also important to check the soil for insect infestation to avoid damaging your crops. In addition, you can use soil to stabilize loose mulch and prevent it from blowing off a row and damaging the plant transplants. These methods are also part of an integrated pest management program.
Another problem with plastic mulch for plants is that it’s difficult to recycle. The material comes from petroleum, and it can cause overheating and excess moisture. This can be detrimental for some plants and can be avoided if you’re growing crops that are sensitive to heat. If you’re growing a crop that’s sensitive to this type of mulch, you can use drip irrigation to keep the soil moist without adding more plastic to your soil.
Another issue with plastic mulch for plants is that it can be a bit restricting for soil moisture. Some pests might be deterred by the silver color, which is sometimes used as mulch. However, plastic mulch can also protect the roots of your plants, preventing weeds from setting up home in your plants. While plastic mulch is convenient, it’s also not the most environmentally friendly option. However, if you’re planting a vegetable garden, you may find that plastic mulch is an excellent choice.
In addition to the environmental impact, plastic mulch is highly labour intensive. Even if it’s biodegradable, there is still a huge problem with the waste management of this product. If you don’t compost it properly, it may remain in your garden and cause damage. Plastic mulch is also expensive and has limited life span. This is why many people opt to use organic mulch instead. However, it’s important to consider the environmental impact of plastic mulch before using it.
Another problem with plastic mulch for plants is the fact that the material does not allow the soil to breathe. Some plastic mulches are colored, which is helpful in preventing weeds and insects in the garden. However, research into the effects of colored mulches has been inconsistent. Therefore, most colored plastic mulches come with a caveat that says, “for trial use only.”