Proper mulching can keep gardens moist, cool

The temperatures are flirting with 100° and it is time to get serious about watering, mulching and garden pests. There is no better gardening practice in Oklahoma than mulching your flower or vegetable beds. It is a sustainable practice that really works as we apply a thin layer of 1 ½” to 3” of bark, hulls or other natural matter to cover the soil like a blanket. Mulches vary dramatically around the country based on what biomass type products are available in that region. Local to our region we have cottonseed hulls, pecan hulls, various grades of pine bark and cedar mulches. Our region has ground oak or hardwood mulches often made from recycled pallets and packing material, usually dyed black, brown or other colors to hide their earlier life.

From the west coast we get small, medium and large western fir bark and the beautiful dark brown, fine curly shreds of pacific grade A cedar. From the south east coast we get cypress bark and pine straw. From the mid-west we get virgin white oak, many colored oak mulches and cocoa hulls with the sweet smell of hot chocolate.

If mulching for the first time, soak your flower beds, vegetable garden or container well and then the next day apply the thin layer of mulch over the soil between plants. The mulch will reduce evaporation and keep the soil more moist and cool, often reducing watering by 50% or more. Mulching tomatoes keeps the tomatoes off the ground with air still moving around the “fruit” and dramatically reduces blossom end rot. The mulch acts like a comforter on your bed and moderates the temperature around the plants, not as hot in the summer or as cold in the winter. As the mulch ages and breaks down or as you mix it in the soil in future years it adds organic matter to the soil, further enriching your growing beds.

Mulches are also very good at reducing, in some cases almost eliminating weed problems and competition. Weed your bed good before mulching and the mulch will limit the germination of new weeds.  If you will keep the mulched area weeded your future weed problems will be less and less each season. After the bed has been mulched for a full season you can usually just dig and plant where needed in future seasons and freshen the bed with new mulch over the top of the old mulch as needed.

Make certain to stay attentive to your watering as you can stress your plants in a hurry at these temperatures especially with hot, dry winds. It is best to soak your trees, shrubs, lawn and flowers really good, equivalent to ½” or 1” of rain every few days rather than to squirt a little every day. Remember plants in containers and hanging baskets will dry out more often and need more watering than established plants in ground beds.

Be on the lookout for garden pest problems. We are seeing and hearing about bagworms, red spider mites, worms, beetles, mosquitoes, grubs and fleas. Visit with your nurseryman to select the right solution for your problems. Take time to enjoy your garden as you do your watering and mulching.

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