One of the best things you can do to save yourself time in your garden is use a good mulch. Mulch reduces the number of weeds that sprout by blocking light to weed seeds and helps reduce water evaporation - meaning you won't have to water as often.
Types of Mulch
You can mulch your garden with lot of different kinds of mulch however some will give you better results than others or work better for you from year to year. Here are my thoughts on common mulch types.
Shredded leaves are what we use in my garden, a hundedth acre "micro farm". I prefer leaves because they will eventually decompose which will add nutrients to the soil, are available in abundance for free, and look nice. Leaves are also a great way to put your garden to bed for the winter at the end of the growing season if you are not going to winter garden.
Organic compost mixes also make great mulches. You can een mix them 50/50 with shredded leaves to bulk up their volume and save you money per square foot. A word of caution about compost: not all compost is created equal. Be sure to read the ingredients that went into yours and if they don't say, just pass. My favorite brand is called Bumper Crop and includes bat guano, worm castings and an overall great mix of organic components.
If you mow your own lawn, switch to using a bagging mower and place your clipped grass around your plants as mulch. You'll help your garden keep your yard waste bin volume down.
You can use your spent coffee grounds as a light mulch in your garden. Due to the high moisture content, don't spread it more than about a half inch deep or you may end up with moldy grounds (ew). It works best when used in conjunction with another type of mulch - either by mixing them together or by laying a think layer of coffee and then adding a drier mulch on top. Get coffee grounds either by collecting them from personal consumption or by stopping by local coffee shops and asking if you can have their used grounds (Starbucks even has a program just for this. Go in and ask for "Grounds for your garden").
Bark mulch or chips
While bark mulch looks nice especially in flower gardens, I don't recommend it for vegetable gardens. Bark chips do not decompose well and may remain in beds for a long time or get in your way from year to year. I do use bark on my garden paths precisely because they do not decompose well but don's use them around your plants.
Laying mulch is super easy. If you have a lot, I recommend filling up a wheelbarrow and bringing it over to the garden along with a shovel and bucket. Fill the bucket with mulch and then shake out .5 - 1 inch of mulch around your plants and on top of the bed where they are growing.
I do not mulch my walkways unless I mulch with a slower decomposing material like bark chips.
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