Applying a mulch around our plants can be one of the most effective ways to improve their health and success, especially during hot and dry conditions like we had in 2012. Mulches have many benefits, but it is important to know how to use them to avoid problems.
Mulch conserves water by reducing evaporation 10%-50%. Usually a 2”-4” deep layer is best, and the material needs to be open enough to admit rain and irrigation and dense enough to resist evaporation. It is a good idea to apply mulch after the soil has been deeply watered or soaked with a good rain. Then the mulch will hold the moisture. Beware of materials like unshredded leaves which can act like shingles, and dry compost or sawdust which are hydrophobic, meaning they are difficult to wet. These problems are worse on a slope where water can run off instead of penetrating.