In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2013
Regional Report

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Organic mulch such as shredded bark conserves moisture, keeps weeds out, and provides a beautiful walkway through your garden.

Mulch for Low Maintenance

Mulch, mulch, mulch is the mantra of gardeners, especially in a hot summer climate like that of southern California. This allegiance to mulching is based on our being protective, economical, inventive, and efficient. Protective because we don't want our garden soil and plants to be stressed during the heat of summer. Economical because we'd rather not pay exorbitant water bills. It's inventive because many readily available materials can be used as mulch. And efficient, since mulch is one of the best friends a gardener who wants a low maintenance landscape can have. Let's face it -- none of us wants to be out in the garden watering in 90 degree weather!

The Many Benefits of Mulch
Mulching plants keeps soil moisture and temperature more constant. Plants and earthworms thrive when they endure fewer water and temperature extremes. A 2- to 4-inch thick layer of mulch decreases evaporation from the soil by 70 percent or more. This allows you to water less often. Keep mulch several inches away from tree trunks and plant stems, however, for good air circulation and to reduce the risk of crown rot.

Mulch keeps gardens weed free by excluding the light that seeds need to germinate and grow. Mulch prevents erosion by protecting the surface of the soil from rain and wind. As organic mulch decomposes into humus, it improves soil structure and fertility. Mulch in pathways softens the walking surface.

What to Use
Types of organic mulches include grass clippings, wood chips, shredded bark, compost, plant clippings, coffee grounds, tree leaves (including pine needles), and shredded newspaper. These materials will decompose and enrich the soil. Keep in mind that the smaller the pieces of mulch, the shorter the time they take to decompose.

Coffee grounds, oak leaves, and pine needles are excellent mulches to use around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, blueberries, and rhododendrons.

Use That Grass
Grass clippings can be used for mulch during any season of the year. However, fresh clippings contain so much moisture that they should be allowed to dry before being spread more than 1 inch thick. If piled deeper than that, great care should be taken to avoid compressing them until they're thoroughly dry or they'll form an impervious mat that begins to decompose anaerobically (without air), which smells bad and attracts garden pests. The problem is easily solved by spreading out the grass clippings so they can dry and decompose properly.

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