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We have been hearing a lot of talk about mulch but what exactly is it and what are its benefits?

Any material applied as a top layer over soil is known as mulch and most gardeners love it. Chemist, teacher, backyard gardener and environmentalist Lionel Seucharan who has been producing tropi-mulch since 2010 told Guardian Media, “The demand for mulch has increased dramatically since more persons want to create beautiful spaces for holistic living, entertaining guests and since it is used in horticultural production and in the growing of food.

“Mulch use is functional in terms of weed and moisture control, without use of carcinogenic weedicide; also on decomposition, it improves soil fertility,” explained Seucharan.

He added that “mulch is one of the variables that can play a critical role in these perilous times when our food security is at stake and we need to supplement our food supply by growing some ourselves.

The mulch is acting as a blanket over the soil, so it doesn’t heat up and cause rapid water evaporation, so water is conserved in this harsh, dry season and especially for those whose supply is limited.”

There are added bonuses with mulch. Seucharan answered some further questions:

What are the benefits

of using mulch?

It is both functional and aesthetic. It retards weed growth, reduces water consumption by the plant, slowly decays to produce humus, helps aerate and increase drainage of soil. It keeps root system cooler in dry season.

Where can I use mulch?

It can be used in flower beds around ornamentals and trees (fruit trees included). It can be used in the vegetable garden around food crops or mixed into soil to form a potting mix. It is suitable for use with anthuriums and orchids. It gives a rustic look in garden walkways and in play areas.

What happens to the

mulch as it sits on the soil?

As time passes the mulch will slowly decompose. The different components will decompose at different rates—weathering, fungi, earthworms, insects and microbes slowly consume the wood and recycle the nutrients (organic and inorganic) back into the soil. The decayed remains, humus, provide vital nutrients to the plant.

What do I do if I open a bag of mulch from the store and it smells like vinegar, sulphur or rotten eggs?

During improper storage, toxic liquids and gases can form in mulch (sour mulch). They can damage plants if guidelines are not followed. The best way to prevent this is to smell the mulch before use. Do not apply to plants if pungent odour is detected (it should smell like freshly cut wood or garden compost.) Fortunately, toxins in sour mulch dissipate rapidly. If you have sour mulch simply spread it out in a thin layer on a driveway or tarp or anywhere it would not pose threat to plants. Exposure to air will usually get rid of gaseous toxins. If the weather is dry you can water the pile with a hose to leach out liquid toxins. The next day you can install your mulch safely.

Look out for more on mulch in the coming weeks.