leaf mulch at the end of a long, Chicago winter, about four inches thick

leaf mulch at the end of a long, Chicago winter

Mulching may be hot work but it’s one of the most important things you can do for your vegetable and herb garden. A good mulching of 3-6 inches:

  • preserves moisture in the soil during the dog days of summer
  • regulates temperature extremes
  • keeps the weeding down (hurrah!)
  • enriches your soil as it decomposes by restoring nutrients used to produce fruits and vegetables (double hurrah!)
  • protects your top soil from winter erosion

I advocate mulching with ground leaves twice a year: once in the late spring/early summer to protect plants from drying out in summer heat; and a second after frost to conserve your soil from winter erosion and to decompose into great top soil by spring.

I’m a fan of leaf mulch because that’s what I learned to garden with and have always had excellent results. I like that it acts like a good compost and is not acidic as is wood-based mulch. In fact, not all mulches are equal. Whatever you use, do NOT use wood mulch in your food garden. (Okay, maybe for a path but not the red dyed kind.) Wood mulch is too acidic for vegetables and does not easily and quickly decompose into healthy, balanced soil.

Be careful about where and what you buy as mulch. Check to make sure it’s not treated and weed-resistant because it will deter the growth of your garden plants too. Your mulch must be ground fairly fine to be effective but not so fine that it’s soil consistency. Some sources offer a mulch enriched with nitrogen-rich cow urine, always a plus.

In early spring, I go around my garden and break up and move back the leaf mulch from the perennials such as herbs and rhubarb. This allows the new spring growth to break through and spring rain to get to the plant’s roots.

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