It’s official – this Christmas will be a hot one! In our climate, mulching around plants and trees is not optional. It is simply an essential element to ensure their survival as well as an excellent water conservation strategy.
At this time of year our soil is super dry… especially this year. We have already experienced extreme heat during early summer as well as a substantial drop in Spring rainfalls. For those of you who like facts and figures (and we certainly do!), our backyard records show a total of 39 mls of rain over the last 4 months compared to 55.3 mls over the same period last year and 90.8 mls in 2013. There is also a worrying drop in overall annual rainfall from 518 mls in 2013 and 479 mls in 2014 to 336 mls this year.
Our region has also experienced several hot spells throughout November and December, recording its hottest December night in more than a century last week when it reached 33C before 4:00am. Six days of temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius were recorded this month in what our Bureau of Meteorology has described as an “unusual” and “extreme burst of heat”.
Temperatures such as these have only been recorded three times during November and December since European settlement. October was also hotter than average, shattering the city’s all-time October record by more than 5C.
Luckily our garden produces an abundance of mulching material all year round and chop-and-drop mulching is the cheap, easy and lazy way to protect our garden soil from the heat. We just chop weeds, pruning material from trees and bushes, spent vegetables, etcetera, and drop these around our plants and trees.
Mulch not only conserves moisture but also protects and adds nutrients to our topsoil. As the mulch breaks down it adds organic material to the soil, improving the texture and making nutrients available. The shade it provides decreases evaporation, and helps us stretch our water supply by keeping the soil cool.
Often the type of mulch used simply depends on which material are easier and cheaper to access. If the ‘chop & drop’ method is not suitable for you then bailed or shredded pea straw or Lucerne are other good choices.
Whatever material you use, tease the mulch out and fluff it up as you spread it around and always leave a gap around tree trunks to avoid collar rot and other fungal problems. Also make sure it is open enough for water to filter through to the soil below. Every now and then, pull back the mulch and check that the soil below is damp so you know the rain or water from your hose is making it through the mulch.
Nothing is ever wasted here.We use larger tree branches and trunks to shape garden paths and provide habitat for native wildlife. This year, my Christmas wish is that we all ditch the phrase ‘green waste’ and replace it with ‘green resources’!