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Significance of mulches

Mulches are the material that covers the ground, much like layer of leaves on the forest floor. Mulch is simply a protective layer of a material that is spread on top of the soil.  Mulches are sheet of material or loose covering placed on the cultivated soil surface. Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial practices you can use in the garden.
Types of mulches:
Many forms of mulches are available commercially. Two major types of mulches are:
1.    Inorganic / Synthetic / Artificial mulches
rganic/natural mulches
Both organic and inorganic mulches have numerous benefits.
Inorganic mulches:
Crushed stones, gravels and pebbles
Pulverized rubber
Geo textile fabrics
Clean plastic mulch
Black plastic
Inorganic mulches don’t decompose and don’t improve soil structure, add organic matter or provide nutrients. Due to these reasons most of the horticulturists prefer organic mulches.
Organic mulches:
Wood chips
Grass clippings
Pine needles and pine bark
Hard and soft wood bark
Compost mixes
Hay and straw
Leaves
Leaf mould
Saw dust
Organic mulches are decomposing at different rates depending on the climate and nature of the material. Decomposition of organic mulches improves soil fertility and soil quality.
Advantages of mulches:
When mulches applied correctly, mulch has the following beneficial effects on plants and soils.
•    Reduce erosion and retain soil nutrients
•    Mulches prevent loss of water from the soil surface by evaporation
•    Mulches reduce the growth of weeds
•    Mulches help to prevent soil compaction
•    Encourage beneficial soil organisms
Disadvantages of mulches:
•    If mulches are direct contact with the stems of trees or specimen shrubs they can cause the stem to soften, making it vulnerable to diseases.
•    If you have added mulch to the soil you will need to apply extra water to reach the roots of the plants beneath.
•    There is no need to remove mulches to apply fertilizers. Fertilizers are spread over mulches in late winter and are washed down to plant roots by rain.
Good mulching practices:
•    Organic mulches may hold too much moisture during wet spells for plants that prefer dry conditions. Pull mulch back 2 or 3 inches from the stem of the plant or use mineral mulch.
•    Match the mulch type to the site conditions and plant requirements. Decomposing organic mulches can provide too much organic matter resulting in fungal problems.  
•    Some mulches form a hard crust or tight mat, shedding water altogether.  Again, drip irrigation under the mulch can solve this problem.
•    Mulching inhibits all seeds growth, so leave seeds you may be trying to germinate uncovered.
When to apply mulch?
Mulches are best applied from mid- to late spring and autumn, when the soil is moist and warm. It is best to avoid applying mulches in winter and early spring as the soil is too cold, and in summer, when it will be dry. They can be applied around new plantings or to established beds and specimen plants.
Why use Mulch?
Mulching prevents moisture loss; therefore extending periods of watering by days, sometimes even by weeks!
By shading the soil, mulches inhibit weed growth.
Keeps soil from splashing onto plant leaves, thereby reducing certain diseases?
Matching the right mulch to the type of plant or crop can enhance plant growth.
Gravel or rock mulches can prevent rainwater runoff.
Best of all, mulches reduce work and adds a finishing touch to the landscape.
How to apply mulch?
Beds and borders can be mulched entirely, taking care not to smother low growing plants or to pile mulches up against the stems of woody plants.
•    To be effective, biodegradable mulches need to be between at least 5cm (2inch) and ideally 7.5cm (3inch) thick
•    Lay mulches over moist soil, after removing weeds, including their roots, when the soil is not frozen
•    When creating new beds, planting through mulch sheets is effective
•    Single trees and specimen shrubs are best mulched to the radius of the canopy
Conclusion:
Mulching small vegetable gardens is sensible and common place, but is not transferable to field scale rain-fed agriculture and where seen, is often linked to incentives such a subsidized input and is restricted to small demonstrations plots.
The writers are associated with the Department of Agronomy University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. They can be reached at <shakoor2914@gmail.com>
 


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