Homemade Mulch

Make your own mulch by shredding tree limbs and other woody clippings.

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Mulch is a valuable component of every garden because it covers and protects your garden's precious soil. It also helps retain moisture in the soil by slowing evaporation, keep out weeds by blocking out the sun and — in the case of organic mulches — add some nutrition to the soil as it continues to decompose. In many parts of the country, mulch helps stabilize soil temperatures so you don't get erratic swings in the soil temperature, which plants really don't like. Mulch also provides a nice haven for earthworms since they like the soil conditions below.

If you do a lot of tree cutting at home, why not turn all that organic debris into your own mulch? There are many types of wood chippers available to buy or rent. These machines easily devour small tree limbs and branches and spit out that precious mulch. These particles can be furthered screened to remove bulky pieces.

Prior to using homemade mulch in the garden, allow a fresh pile to cure. As the fresh wood chips decompose, they rob nitrogen from the soil. So it's important to let wood mulch compost for at least six to eight months before it's used. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a very unhappy garden bed. Add plant material or blood meal to give the mulch a boost of much needed nitrogen.

When the mulch is ready for the garden, apply coarse mulch for large landscapes and trees and fine mulch for smaller gardens, plants and containers. Apply a layer of mulch about three to four inches deep.

Avoid applying mulch directly at the base of plants. Moisture can become trapped directly at the plant's base and cause rot problems. Also critters like field mice that are looking for a place to hole up for the winter will crawl under the mulch. They can start chewing and actually girdle the base of the plant.

Reapply a new layer of mulch every year. Periodically throughout the year, fluff the mulch because some mulches have a tendency to become compacted. Loosen the mulch with a garden fork or pitchfork. This allows water to percolate better.

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