Shade Your Soil with Mulch

A combination of cardboard, old bedsheet, and wood shavings for mulching around wildflowers and other plants

As our growing season progresses and summer solstice draws near, we start anticipating long, hot days ahead. This is a good time to think about shading your soil, and mulching! Shading your soil from the summer heat can save water, compete with weeds, protect soil biology, reduce stress, and build habitat. I could have a long and animated conversation about mulch: which kinds I like, what I have tried, what did not work, and what is worth paying for. However, this is a short taste to get you inspired to take action—and mulch!

What should I use?

Mulching can be accomplished by spreading any of these materials on your soil:

High-quality compost

Yes, it is really the most deluxe mulch, since it both protects and feeds your soil. There is nothing better than shoveling a dark, earthy load of compost onto your growing beds. You can literally see your plants saying, “Thank you!”

Decomposing woodchips

This woody blend is great for supporting the fungal allies in your soil. Since it takes longer to break down, your plants can benefit all season long.

Grass clippings

This valuable waste product contains a lot of free nitrogen! Then, after it is dry, it becomes a fluffy layer of mulch. Free, easy to find, and gives plants a boost. Just make sure it’s organic and doesn’t contain any nasty chemicals.

Shredded or large pieces of cardboard

Like grass clippings, this waste material is free and easy to find. Cardboard can be a nice way to create custom-shaped mulch for large, sprawling plants like melons and squash.

Straw (not hay, it has seeds)

Rice straw and alfalfa are especially deluxe. You can apply it in thick layers or as a thin amendment, it’s easy to work with, and it is great for improving soil tilth.

Living mulch

I am currently obsessed with sprinkling radish seeds between all my plants. The seed germinates, creates a mycorrhizal association, connects the pathway of nutrients, and stimulates the soil biology through its roots.  You can pull and eat them, and when they bloom they are great for pollinators. Win-win!

Cotton sheets or pillowcases

I refuse to buy plastic woven landscape fabric, so instead I have been experimenting with cotton sheets as mulch. They work! This is an awesome way to use a waste product (stained cotton fabric). Lay it down, then cover it with another type of mulch to help the materials last longer.

To me, feeding your soil is the key to healthy plants, good yields, and successful farming. It is the focus of most of my horticultural efforts. Feed and protect the soil!

By Rhianna Simes

Contact Rhianna at her Educational Mini Farm, Verdant Phoenix, or at