Using decorative mulches

Mulch materials such as cocoa bean shells and ornamental chippings not only look good, they have a useful role to play in the garden.

A part from providing a very attractive and almost maintenance-free surface, an ornamental mulch helps keep your garden weed free and reduces the effects of summer drought.

Annual weeds in particular are easily suppressed; the seedlings are suffocated, and weed seeds are prevented from reaching the soil.

Surface mulches also act as an insulating blanket, protecting young or delicate roots from extremes of temperature. In winter a layer of mulch reduces the risk of soil freezing around the roots, and mulch provides extra protection against a scorching sun in summer. A good layer of surface mulch is particularly important for plants such as hybrid clematis which need a cool, moist root run.

Though most ornamental mulches don’t add nutrients to the soil, the structure is likely to be improved because worms are attracted to mulched areas.

Organic materials, such aslarge, round cobbles makes an chipped bark and cocoa beaneye-catching feature beside a patio shells, form a very decorativeor front door.

Mulch which is ideal as a soil topUsing mulches Prepare the ground dressing for smothering weeds andbefore you add a surface mulch, as conserving moisture in beds andcultivation is difficult once the borders.ground is covered.

Though they need to be toppedspring or early summer after the up every year or two, organicsoil has warmed up and the mulches are light to handle andground is likely to be moist.

ORGANIC MULCHES such as chipped bark make a natural-looking surface dressing for beds and borders. Some contain a few nutrients, but you still need to apply fertilizer – use liquid rather than granular iced. Rake over a 2.5-5cm (l-2in) thick layer of the mulch; top up every year or two. Chipped bark comes in different grades – use large chips in an exposed bed where finer material may be blown about. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails which may take refuge in the bark. Cocoa bean shells contain some nutrients, but you still need to add fertilizer. Water well after applying to bind the shells into a weed-suppressing cover. The shells may help repel slugs, snails and cats. Coir, made from coconut fibre, contains some nutrients; the finer grades are sold as peat-substitute soil conditioners. Use a coarse grade as a surface mulch.

STONE MULCHES are ideal for areas where drainage is necessary. Spread an all-over layer of gravel to a thickness of 2.5-5cm (l-2in). Grit ranges from fine potting to coarser horticultural grades. Chippings include gravel, the cheapest form of stone mulch, for use over a wide area. More decorative chippings are also available. Country pebbles, in traditional stone colours such as Cotswold buff, give a natural effect or match paving or walls. Use in containers or around the patio. Cobbles, usually about as large as an orange, are available in white or stone colours. Three or four of these smooth, rounded stones make a dramatic grouping.

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