Black polyethylene plastic mulch is a relatively cheap, simple, and versatile method of conserving moisture in your garden. Similar to zai pits and small water reservoirs, mulch can be used to store sufficient amounts of water for your garden, escaping the horrors of drought in the hottest of summer days. Unlike zai pits and small reservoirs, mulch encases water inside, and has the miraculous ability to fertilize your soil. It also will one day become part of your soil, as it is 100% biodegradable.
Polyethylene mulch is arguably the best way to conserve water in New Mexico, where rainfall is not particularly prevalent. It contains water to a point of no escape, while adding beneficial bacteria and nutrition to your soil. Who likes dead stuff? Let alone plants? I sure don’t.
Mulch has another form for those of you who are still questioning whether or not polyethylene is biodegradable. Black landscape cloth retains seven years of life for your mulch, but the moisture escapes more easily than with plastic. This cloth can line pits or rows of soil. It does not alter the chemical makeup of the soil, aside from adding nutrients.
Afraid of plastic AND cloth? Well have we got the thing for you! An organic form of this gardening goodness is that of pure biotic content—grass blades, disembodied leaves, hay, straw, pine needles, etc. They can all be used to conserve water and give nutrients, by lining your fields or garden. Unlike the other two methods, the flaw here lies in the soil. Biotic mulches can alter the chemical structure of your soil, in good or bad ways. This means, the chemical composition of the soil that you’re “mulching” will change in ways that are dependent on the content that you apply.
Cover crops in and of themselves are forms of mulch. The only difference is the blatant thought you might experience of “That’s a plant. Not mulch, you silly little potato face”. Balderdash! Cover crops retain every drop of moisture given to them (and then transpire), add nutritional value and bacteria to the soil, and will in fact become part of the soil itself. The performance of these cover crops will depend on your location and climate, of course. Be sure that you’re aware of the acidity levels in your soil, and the class it falls into…and then you’ll be A-O-good.
Mulch is a fertility amplifier. It will make the soil become more fertile as other plants and animals die in its presence, giving back to the convection of soil. A few plant diseases and general plant damage are reduced by applying mulch; making it a trustable protectant. With fertile soil, anything is possible. (Well…almost anything). It’s almost like getting a raise at your job; there’s now more money for you to spend on that beautiful fancy car you want so bad. (Soil fertility is to money as plant is to car). This expands your options, especially if you want to grow vegetables or fruits. So go, get out there and mulch your garden. Your garden deserves this kind of love. You deserve more prosperous plant performance. Hoorah.
Picture 1- http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Vegetables_grown_on_plastic_mulch.JPG
Picture 2- http://oldworldgardenfarms.com/composting-101/planting-cover-crops/