Conserves soil moisture: All mulches slow down evaporation of water from the upper 6 to 8 inches of soil. Since they shade the soil (but not the plants) from the sun, evaporation is reduced by a good 70 to 90 percent In addition, mulching tends to promote the distribution of water evenly over the soil area that it covers.
Moderates soil temperatures: Mulching tends to insulate the soil from the weather conditions 'outside,' and thus helps prevent baking, freezing, and so on. In addition, organic materials and some inorganic mulches like paper and materials with shiny surfaces reflect or inhibit the sun's rays. This keeps the temperature of the covered soil as much as 10 degrees below that of the surrounding, exposed soil.
Controls weeds: Organic mulches that are at least two inches thick will generally inhibit weed growth. Many weeds simply can't make it through the mulch to get at light and air. However, persistent perennial weeds will come through most organic mulches, and so must be pulled by hand. Inorganic mulches, especially black plastic, virtually eliminate weeds.
Enhances soil structure: Soil frequently develops a surface crust because of the compacting pressure from rain or from sprinkler irrigation. A mulch breaks this water pressure and allows the earth's pore spaces to remain open. In addition, mulch slows water runoff and thus helps to hold the soil in place. (A subsidiary benefit is that mulch holds maturing vegetables off the moist ground and thus helps prevent premature rotting).
Improves soil fertility: Organic mulch decomposes slowly, thus functioning as a kind of time-release fertilizer for the soil it covers. Each day a little bit of organic matter is added to the soil, improving its texture and providing it with nutrients.
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