living a well tended life... at any age

gardening basics: mulch and irrigation

In my many years of designing gardens, not once has a client turned to me and said, “I’d really love to learn all there is to know about mulch.”

Shocking, right? I know – you’re DYING to hear more…….

When it comes time to design and plant a garden, most people (myself included) want to get to the “good stuff” – the pretty shrubs, delicious herbs and fragrant flowers. Not to be a killjoy, but if you take the time to invest in  the basic “building blocks” of your garden, those hydrangeas, peonies and basil plants will be happier and healthier – and you’ll have a more beautiful garden to boot.

So let’s get started!

Mulch

According to Wikipedia, mulch is  “a protective cover placed over the soil…..”. Why is it so important? Mulch offers numerous benefits to your garden year-round:

  • it regulates the soil temperature and retains moisture
  • it suppresses weeds
  • it prevents “splash up” of soil onto foliage
  • it provides a neat and finished appearance to the garden
  • it adds organic matter to the garden as it decomposes
  • You probably already mulch your garden beds – but did you know that it is just as important to use mulch in your planters too? Think about it – most containers (especially window boxes) don’t have more than a few inches of soil for plants to seek out moisture, and during the heat of the summer, they can dry out very quickly. Mulch acts as insulation for the soil and plant roots, and while it doesn’t take the place of regular watering, it can help hold in existing moisture longer.

    What is the best mulch to use? For the most part, that’s up to your personal preference. Shredded pine, cedar and hemlock are economical and readily available – I use those in my planters and window boxes. For my garden beds I love Sweet Peet – a beautiful, dark brown mulch that is both mulch and soil conditioner. It’s a little more expensive but I’ve seen a marked improvement in the health and vigor of my shrubs and perennials since I’ve been using it. There is also a growing trend toward “mulching in place” – shredding the fallen leaves from your trees to use as mulch. This is easily done with your lawn mower and is as beneficial for your lawn as it is for your garden beds. For more information, click here.

    Mulch should be applied in a 2-4″ thick layer in early spring – ideally before your perennials start coming up in earnest – and again in late fall. Here’s a picture of my garden, freshly mulched with Sweet Peet in mid-March:

    Irrigation

    It’s just a fancy word for water,  but while it’s your garden’s most essential ingredient, it is also the most misunderstood.

    When I talk about irrigation systems most people think of the traditional overhead sprinklers that water the lawn. Overhead watering, whether with a sprinkler or hose, is the least desirable method of irrigation. Most of the water evaporates before reaching the ground, and any moisture that remains on the foliage (especially during humid weather) can lead to a host of problems, such as powdery mildew and fungi. Plants develop strong and extensive root systems when they have the opportunity to go deep within the soil to seek out water. So long, deep watering is essential for strong and healthy plants. This can only be accomplished with a drip irrigation system.

    A drip irrigation system is possibly the best investment you can make in your garden.  It literally pays for itself by conserving water (statistically, outside watering can represent up to 20% of your water bill) and delivering it exactly where needed – at the base of the plants. A drip system is used in conjunction with a timer, delivering water when needed, where needed and in the appropriate amounts depending on the weather and time of year.

    The ideal time to install a drip system is, of course, when you’re putting in a new lawn or garden. But don’t let that stop you if you have already-established beds. A trained and licensed contractor will work with you to ensure proper installation.  To learn more, click here.

    While not the most glamorous of subjects, if you take the time to put these two important components of your garden in place,  I promise you’ll be rewarded with the most lush, beautiful and carefree garden on the block!

    4 Comments

    1. Kerri Warner on April 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      Sheri, what an informative post! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise in this area – it’s especially timely as we consider our post construction lawn options.

      • sheri silver on April 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm

        Thank you! Stay tuned for more…….

    2. […] The main tasks in the garden this month fall to the talented landscaper who works with me. He does a big spring clean-up, which includes: cutting back  the ornamental grasses, getting rid of all the dead winter growth and adding a nice thick layer of mulch. I get a lot of comments about my mulch which, as you can see in the pictures, is a rich dark brown – like crumbled chocolate cake. It’s called Sweet Peet, and I’ll be talking more about it – and why mulching is so important – in a future post.  […]

    3. take it easy | donuts, dresses and dirt on May 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm

      […] also cut down on watering. Want a really low-maintenance garden? Install an irrigation system (read here for […]

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