Mulching For Success In The Garden

Saving water the natural way!
Written By Jonathan Radford

soil organismsoil bacteria

With summer just around the corner and newly planted plants in the vegetable garden or flower borders we need to retain all the moisture we can in the soil to promote healthy growth and ensure that we get maximum results from our garden- but how?

mulching leaves

Well, in nature the leaves drop from the trees and form a healthy layer of organic matter at the base of the tree and, like everything in nature, this doesn’t just happen by chance- or without good reason!

Organic matter is the soils food and a healthy covering of the stuff is absolutely vital to ensure the presence of soil bacteria/organisms- essential for water retention and the formation of humus. Humus is a gel-like substance that is formed by the breakdown of organic matter, via the worms, organisms and bacteria which are present in healthy soils. When we think of there being slimy worms and bugs in our gardens we are often disgusted but as Aristotle was quoted as saying… “Earthworms are the intestines of the soil” …


earth worms

… and he could not have been more right as these creatures are essential in maintaining the soil healthy, friable and water-retentive. Therefore it is clear that in order to maintain a healthy, water-retentive soil in yards, landscape designs, and gardens, we must aim to keep these creatures very happy and that’s really very simple…

By adding manure, rotted-down leaves or straw as a soil covering (mulch) we can maintain the essential organisms, prevent water from evaporating, create humus and provide a very pleasing visual effect that looks very neat and ordered- all year round…


By far the best mulch can be obtained from rotted leaves but they do require at least 6 months in a pile or compost heap prior to being used as many leaves contain harmful leaf tannins that may harm the smaller landscape plants. Straw also makes a fine mulch and will prevent slugs and snails from reaching the plant as they dislike travelling over such dry surfaces.

A covering of mulch will also eliminate weed growth and reduce the amount of tedious hours spent weeding to a minimum thus allowing you to enjoy your yard - safe in the knowledge that you have done something that will benefit the environment. Bare soil releases much more Carbon dioxide and by covering the surface you will also reduce CO2 emissions!

mulched flower beds

For an alternative non-organic mulch that will aid water retention by trapping moisture in the soil try gravel, especially for Mediterranean landscaping plants. This is my back garden in Italy and as you can see I spend far longer looking at it and enjoying it than I do actually working in it…

… Happy gardening…!

Contact Jonathan for ecological, Tuscan-style gardens at

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