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Unprotected soil is at the mercy of the elements. A heavy rainfall can seriously compact and erode the soil. To keep this from ruining a good garden plot you should always mulch your soil. The practice of mulching is the adding of organic materials to the top of your soil. Mulching should be done in the spring when the soil has warmed. If the soil is cold it could retard the growth of your plants. This not only protects your soil from erosion, it smothers weeds, adds organic matter to the soil and helps retain soil moisture.
Compost is considered to be the best mulch because it also provides nutrients to the soil. Lawn clippings, shredded newspaper, dried pine needles, leaves, sawdust, hay or straw and wood chips are just of few of the mulch materials you can use. Sheets of black plastic film can be purchased at a garden store and used in place of organic mulch. When you use plastic be sure to till and weed the soil before spreading the plastic over it. Also, holes will need to be cut in X shapes to allow for planting and watering.
When applying mulch, the thickness will depend on the material you are using. Loose materials such as straw should be between 7 and 8 inches thick so the sunlight cannot reach the weeds. Sawdust and other denser materials should be no more than 2 inches thick. It is always a good idea to remove any weeds from your garden before mulching even though a thick mulch layer will usually smother them. Also be sure not to smother your seedlings by covering them when you apply mulch.
From time to time the mulch you choose may contain weed seeds, or be shelter for slugs and other destructive insects. Even field mice can find their way into some forms of mulch. The best way to prevent this is to check the material by sifting through it before it is applied. Although weed seeds and some insects are hard to detect, the mulch will usually retard the growth of seeds and simple organic pesticides will remove the unwelcome insects. To save work, get better crops and improve the soil, properly applied mulch is always your best bet.