5 Benefits of Using Mulch in the Garden


As the weather begins to become hotter, and the plants are beginning to mature one thing is for certain, water is going to evaporate. Along with the increased rate of water loss from both plants and the soil, there is also annoying appearance of weeds. For a lot of gardeners water loss is just another issue that one must learn to deal with while gardening or landscaping. Typically gardeners avoid water loss by watering heavy in the early mornings or in the evenings, sometimes both, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough.  

In most households, the idea of using mulch is often seen as something you do while landscaping or keeping an area looking nice and/or ornamental. Typically we assume mulch to be composed of woody material, but in reality mulch can be a variety of materials. The basic concept of mulch is to be used as an insulating barrier between the soil and the sun. Mulching is not a manmade phenomenon as there are many examples of nature using mulch for a variety of benefits. A good example would be the use of pine needles or leaves in the fall as an insulating layer for colder months. Mulch not only helps the trees/plants around them, but a variety of other organisms as well, I plan to elaborate on this concept further within the following paragraphs.

Since a lot of materials can be used as mulch there are a decent amount of options to choose from based on what you desire appearance wise. Mulch holds plenty of benefits that impact the local environment both directly and indirectly and can help improve the appearance of your lawn and garden space. For me it is a great tool in the toolbox for helping with water retention as I briefly mentioned above, helping reducing weed pressure, improving soil health, promoting biodiversity. There is something to be said about the overall versatility of mulch as well.

1. Water Retention

The more that time goes on the more we begin to see some of the impacts of climate change; this can be seen with some areas experiencing frequent droughts or excessive amounts of rain fall. Mulch does a great job dealing with both issues, though it is not perfect. In cases of excessive drought mulching or even deep mulching helps insulate the ground from the sun so much that the water in the soil does not evaporate at the rates observed in non-mulched areas. A good mulching could help ensure food security for your friends and family during a time of panic as your plants would have access to water longer than plants being grown in bare soil fields. In my state it seems that farmers tend to over rely on our local rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers to help sustain their crops so that they can get paid.

I am aware that the allocation of water to farmers/ranchers is regulated by the state and/or federal government in some cases, but would argue that the rate at which we are drawing from our local water reserves is unsustainable at the given rate if occurrences of drought and record high temperatures are set to increase in frequency.

Fresh water was and always has been a valuable resource it is scarce on the Earth and needed to live. It was only until recently that we as humans have begun looking at it in the view of a commodity. It is wise to assume that a time will come where people will see how good they had it in the past and regret their wasteful ways.

On the other hand sometimes record floods occur. With floods comes an extreme influx of water to a landscape as we all know. This large influx typically leads to soil runoff/erosion and the leaching of nutrients from the soil. Historically there were wetlands and watersheds which were meant to help mitigate a good portion of the water from floods, but current human infrastructure has reduced and impacted the overall function of these natural systems. Mulch can be used as a tool to help absorb and hold a chunk of the water in an area, potentially reducing or slowing some of the potential issues caused during excessive rainfall. Look up what a rain garden is if you are curious about the water holding potential of mulch and how you can utilize it in your garden or landscape.

A good example of a rain garden and its funciton

2. Reduced Weed Presence

With the extra water that mulch provides to an area comes some drawbacks. Some of which being that it creates the perfect environment for life within a highly disturbed, early succession (ecological process where a landscape goes from bare rock/soil to a thick old growth forest) landscape leading to higher occurrences of weeds. Do note that I am using the term “weeds” in a general blanket term to discuss any plant that you did not intentionally plant ranging from woody plants, clovers, flowers, or grasses.

While mulch may not be the end all be all solution for weeds it does seem to at least help reduce the overall rate at which weeds popup in my experience. If you use a combination of deep mulching and manual removal of tough plants to remove from an area (like any aggressive turf grass) you will eventually see results in your efforts as the years go by. Mulch helps as it blocks plants from light and also helps to reduce seeds from entering the soil via the wind or from birds.

In my experience any weed that typically makes its way into the soil after the application of mulch to an area is easier to remove as their roots are typically not embedded too deep within the soil.

3. Promotes Biodiversity

While mulching may help reduce the amount of unwanted plants within your garden or landscape do note that the addition of organic material to any is beneficial to a system and mimics the natural cycles of life that we observe in various ecosystems. The slow decomposition of the mulch along with the added water absorption tends to help feed the micro and macro organisms within the soil thus feeding the plants as nutrients are made available to plants. Bacteria and fungi play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy soil.

Mulch (specifically leaf mulch) also helps create habitat for many insects, which is very beneficial today due to the increased reliance of pesticides in agricultural settings and removal of habitat for human development. Many insects rely on some type of mulch for habitat or cover in the winter.   

4. Improves Soil Health

As I discussed previously, the slow decomposition of mulch in your soil can not only promote insect diversity, but also feed various microorganisms within the soil. These interactions typically free up nutrients to be accessible for plants. Certain insects like earthworms feed on the decaying matter and tend to move through the soil causing greater aeration and the natural creation of worm castings. All of which greatly improve the quality of the soil, thus leading a higher quality lawn and/or garden.

Beyond the added nutrient availability and the aeration of the soil, mulching a garden helps MAINTAIN or IMPROVE soil health and prevents degradation via the forms of wind erosion or flooding as we discussed earlier in this blog post. Do note that there is such thing as too much mulch in an area and that some types of mulches are actually insect repelling (such as cedar mulch). Some mulch options can also hold various seeds from more weedy plants or harbor residual pesticide/herbicide residue that can be transferred into your soil (such as hay or wheat straw).

5. Overall Versatility

The addition of mulch to a lawn and/or garden to a growing space makes room for so much versatility. It gives you the freedom to not have to water as much or as often as you did without mulch. Mulching can cost little to no money depending on the amount of labor or money that you are willing to add in, but the potential is always there for free mulch. Since the addition of mulch promotes biodiversity in the soil it is not uncommon for you to find decent sized worms. I can recall instances of planting in the garden where giant worms surface themselves as to try and escape whatever threat they thought I was. If you are into fishing like me you thought one thing, these worms are free fishing bait! I have actually heard that local worms are preferred by local fish due to their scent (though I don’t know how true that is for now).


Look, I get it, mulch is far from perfect, it can attract slugs, and other unwanted insects, but there are  too many great benefits of using mulch in your growing space that I don’t see myself ever using mulch in the garden to some degree. In a time of great uncertainty regarding our food and water, I personally would think you were crazy, lazy, or both if I heard you denounce the need or benefit(s) of mulching in public. I know that my opinion means relatively little to the average man or woman, but please do consider what I lay out in this blog post. Give mulch a chance. Save your topsoil and see the results for yourself after a year or two. Your soil will be rich and moist and you will wonder why it took you so long to come around to the idea.

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