An important component of any garden is mulch. Mulch keeps in moisture, adds organic matter, suppresses weeds and more, but it can also be a huge expense for a gardener on a budget. The good news, there are mulches available to you for free in your neighborhood or on your farm. Here are a few easy-to-find mulches and what to think when using them.
Dried fallen leaves collected in fall make an excellent mulch, though be aware that they will breakdown quickly. (This could be a good thing if your soil is in need of organic matter.) To combat this quick degradation, layer leaf mulch on thick—about 1 to 1½ feet deep. If you have more than enough leaves for your mulching needs, consider fermenting them into leaf mold for a nice dark humus or shredding them for your compost.
Another abundant (and regenerative) mulch source in your yard is grass clippings. Grass clippings are best used when dried out, because they can spread fungus and mold when fresh, so after collecting them in your mower bag, spread them out in the sun on a tarp or blacktop driveway to dry. One exception is to put the fresh grass clippings over newly planted potato beds—the clipping should dry out before the potatoes begin to sprout. Remember, if you’re using grass clippings as mulch, avoid grasses that have gone to see (you’ll spread the seeds causing weeds in your garden) and don’t use clippings from lawns that have been chemically treated.
Straw is a commonly used mulch, and if you don’t grow it yourself, you can obtain it fairly easily and inexpensively. Be aware that you want straw, not hay; straw is typically devoid of seeds, and hay is not. If you want, you can also use straw bales as container gardens or as the walls of a compost bin.