How To Use Mulch To Save Water in Your Garden
by Sylvia Jones
Sylvia Jones, Guest
You’ve planted some drought-safe plants, but there are some varieties you’d love to incorporate that aren’t as great when it comes to water conservation. Does that mean you can only have a garden full of water-sparing succulents?
No, it just means you need to get creative about ways to save water and have a garden at the same time. One of the best ways to do that is by using mulch.
Let’s look at how this works
How Mulch Helps with Water Conservation
Mulch can help plants in a variety of ways. It can slow or stop the soil from freezing in wintry conditions, which is good when you have root crops.
But it also helps on those hot summer days too. It serves as insulation, keeping the hot rays of the sun off the ground, and helping to retain the moisture that’s under the mulch’s protective watch.
Since the sun and some of the heat is staying off the soil surrounding the plant, there is less moisture evaporation. That means the plants don’t have to be watered as frequently or as thoroughly. Less evaporation means less water wasted.
What Type of Mulch to Use?
You can buy so many different types of mulches, or you can use your own from landscaping or gardening materials. So how do you know what’s best? Take a look around at what you may already have in your yard -- you probably have some organic options you can use for free.
If you haven’t used any weedkiller on your lawn, you can use some of the grass clippings from your yard that you’ll collect when you mow.
Those who have pine trees on their properties can use the pine needles as organic mulch. This can be a good choice, depending upon what you’re trying to grow. Just keep in mind that pine needles add more acidity to the ground.
If you go this route, you may only need to put down fresh mulch once a year because the pine needles will last for quite a while.
Another option is wheat straw, which you can get by the bale. Unlike pine needles, you’ll have to replace this more frequently. But it won’t impact the pH balance of the soil, which is a perk to using wheat straw.
If you’ve done some pruning, you can chop or shred the woody parts to create a mulch.
You can also use pine bark or compost you’ve made from kitchen scraps and organic material from your garden.
How to Apply Mulch
Sometimes gardeners get a little carried away when applying mulch. You start to grasp the “more is better” mentality. You think if a little mulch can save water, you can save even more if you apply a thicker layer.
Avoiding that mentality will bring you the best results with your mulch. If you’re using a dense mulch, like small wood chips, bark, or compost, keep your barrier around two inches thick.
You’ll want to put it down loosely -- don’t pack it in. Water has to be able to seep through the barrier into the ground.
If you use a less dense mulch -- something fluffy like pine needles or wheat straw -- you should lay it about three inches thick. You can press it down firmly, but don’t feel the need to pack it in as tightly as possible. It will settle as time goes on.
And if you’re using grass clippings, you’ll only want a thin layer, otherwise, it can get slimy.
Before you put down your mulch, make sure you’ve removed the weeds from the ground you’re covering. Wait until the weather starts warming up to put down the mulch. You want to give the ground a chance to warm up from the winter or your plants won’t grow as well.
Don’t Forget Your Other Water Conservation Methods
While adding mulch is a great first step toward water conservation, remember to be careful about when you water your garden. If you water it in the early morning hours, there will be less evaporation and less wind to carry that water away from your plants.
If you have potted plants, however, water those in the afternoon. They tend to dry out faster than ground gardens, so you’ll want to water them later in the day to do the most good.
And when you boil or steam vegetables for lunch or dinner, keep the water from that. Once it has cooled, give it to your plants instead of dumping it down your drain for an extra boost of nutrients.
About the Author
Sylvia Jones is a DIY and landscaping expert from Indiana. She is passionate about environmental conservation, writing, and being self-sufficient. In her spare time, you can find Sylvia getting involved in home improvement projects with her husband and connecting with other like-minded bloggers. Here's a link to more information about saving water