I am writing about mulch because I find it very intriguing. I am interested in trying out different methods of mulching in my own berry patch, and in my own vegetable garden. This will by a simple synopsis on the few things I have found out about mulch and is by no means an exhaustive study. The act of researching and writing about mulch serves as a good opportunity for me to learn the best ways to use mulch next spring and summer.
Mulching has many uses both in cultivating berries, managing wild berries, and in your own gardens. Mulching serves many functions: It protects the roots of your berry crops; their root systems tend to be near the surface, many perennial berries grow using rhizomes which form mats of growth at relatively shallow depths.
During cold winter months having a mulch over these mats can greatly increase the berry plants chances of producing the next growing season (New York Berry News). Mulch helps to hold in the moisture and to create habitats for small organisms to live and die. Organic mulches also provide more nutrients as they break down into the soil (Homestead and Gardens). The type of mulch to use largely depends on your purpose for the mulch. Most berry crops that are perennials and or shrubs prefer mulches made up of wood chips or sawdust, and other mulches which take longer than one growing season to break down (Work with Nature). These will protect the roots longer and release nutrients slowly into the soil. With cultivated stands of say strawberries using an organic mulch such as grass clippings or leaf mold is a good practice. These mulches will be a good source of organic fertilizers once tilled in at the end of the growing season.
Obviously the best mulches are the ones that you have on hand; these will be the cheapest to use and can be replaced year after year as needed. I personally live near a large sawmill so fresh sawdust and chips are available though I would try and age it for a period of time perhaps a year as least. Putting fresh sawdust or chips around the berry plants can rob the soil of nitrogen. If fresh sawdust is all you have, simply add nitrogen to supplement the soil content. Mulch is also a good way to prevent weeds from taking over your plants. This practice is of primary interest to me as I have a big patch and am continually fighting weeds both between the bushes and the rows. Grass clippings are a very good mulch to keep weeds down but will need to be added every growing season as they break down quickly into the soil. Be careful that the mulch you use if it is a type of hay, that it does not have hay seeds still in the bales, straw would be better.
Not all mulches have to be organic plasticulture works very well for cultivating berries and other crops. Most types of berries need a lot of moisture to produce healthy plants and also when ripening fruit. Plastic mulch can be very effective both for holding moisture and also to keep weeds down. Plastic mulching also works to raise the soil temperature to help keep the berries roots warm. This also will create warmer soil earlier in the year than usual around the berry plants (homeguides SF gate). The downside of using true plastic mulch and not a semi porous ground cloth is that rain water will not get to the roots; an irritation system will most likely need to be installed for the plants. Plastic mulch will also not add any nutrients to the soil and does not provide as favorable a habitat for helpful organisms in the soil.
Decomposing organic mulches can change the pH of your soil over time. In Alaska the cold temperatures slow this decomposition down considerably and it will be awhile before any noticeable changes occur, but if the proper mulch is added every year and tilled in as needed the soil will be improved (Work with Nature). The soil I work tends to be more acidic so I much more likely to grow funguses such as mushrooms in wet soils. In warmer climates with alkaline soils the bacteria are able to build up better soil systems which is why composting works well in the warmer states (Work with Nature). I will be putting a lot of very old horse manure on my garden this month and have it tilled in for next spring. I might also put some straw and other mulching options down on some of the bare spots in my garden over the winter so that those areas will have a bit more organic matter already decomposing next year.