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Drought and mulch  RSS feed

 
Rue Barbie
Posts: 70
Location: Coastal Southern California
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We are in our 5th year of drought in my part of SoCal. I had a smaller garden last year, but want to grow more this year, but really must be aware of how much water I am using.

I use mulch from the city. There is only a delivery charge for 8 yards. I put soaker hoses beneath the mulch since it is likely we won't get anymore rain till next Oct/Nov. I would describe the mulch as a heavy without much airspace. It's been so dry the past few years, snail and slug populations are down. And rodents don;'t live in the stuff.

I have two questions:

1) I'm wondering about the timing of putting it down. I never used to give it much thought, but after reading some old threads here, it never occurred to me that mulching too soon might prevent the soil from warming. I already have some things planted. My chilies are already a foot or more tall, but I don't want to stall them. I normally mulch deeply, but am limiting myself to 2-3 inches. Does that sound about right for this early in the season? It never freezes here, so maybe that doesn't matter.

2) I did plant some cover crops, including weeds, a few months ago, and have since chopped most of them. I've read that cover crops can keep the soil cooler from their shade, and hence more moist, but which do you think would preserve moisture better - living cover crops, or a nice layer of mulch? I just kept thinking the cover crops would be using whatever water was in the soil, but I don't know if that is correct. Any opinions on that?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I would not personally use a living mulch unless one grew without irrigation. I'd expect a living mulch to compete with my preferred plants. For my summer garden I'm mulching heavily around the preferred plants.

 
Rue Barbie
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Location: Coastal Southern California
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I would not personally use a living mulch unless one grew without irrigation. I'd expect a living mulch to compete with my preferred plants. For my summer garden I'm mulching heavily around the preferred plants.


Since I knew I wouldn't be putting in my crop plants for a couple months, and a nice rain was predicted. I seeded the mixed cover crop seeds and things grew well. It was just going forward that I was unsure of. I decided to go with what you suggested - remove the cover crops and then mulch. It's what makes sense to me, but I"ve seen videos which suggested otherwise. I still have a couple beds of mixed crop and cover crop. ONe I haven't gotten to yet, the other I'm playing by ear.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I have some salad greens growing as a living mulch around some plantings, and I'm gradually harvesting it and will replace with mulch, I think.

 
Rue Barbie
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Location: Coastal Southern California
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I've pretty much mulched all the veggie beds, but I'm now wondering if I should mulch even deeper than I did initially. It does tend to settle. I had put down about 5 inches which, after a couple weeks, is now 3 inches or so. I use free city mulch, which is ground green waste. I'm thinking another few inches where it can easily be done might not hurt. The plants are growing great so I won't have easy access to all areas, and since they are now taller, they will be less prone to being buried by the mulch. If it means watering less, it might be worth the extra work.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I'd try to keep the mulch at least 4 inches thick and might go as deep as 6 inches in your case. Let the plants determine how deep you can have the mulch around them.

I used to live in LA and our gardens were mulched 6 inches deep and we added more when it compressed.
We also used the same depth of mulch when we moved to Sacramento. Both places it worked out very well for us.

Things like radishes need a thinner mulch than the taller items.
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Thick mulches work well in Central Texas, also. Be sure the ground underneath is wet when you apply the mulch or you run the risk of future water all be absorbed before it reaches the soil. Of course, if you're using some kind of watering system under the mulch (anything from wicking bed or ollas to drip irrigation) then this isn't relevant.
 
Rue Barbie
Posts: 70
Location: Coastal Southern California
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Thanks for the replies. Looks like I'm going to try for 6 inches where possible.

I almost always plant starts instead of direct seed. When putting out small plants, I only want to mulch near them so deep. I guess that means if I want deeper mulch, I'm going to have to go round a second time. And if I do that, it means the mulch won't necessarily have to be a uniform depth - if growing plants are in the way.

As for water, I do run soaker hoses beneath. When preparing a bed, I'll do what I want with the soil, then lay down and temporarily weight the hoses (and make any repairs), then plant in relation to the hoses, then mulch either right away, or when it gets a bit warmer or any seasonal rain has ended.
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