What Is Mulching?
Mulching is the method or practice of covering the soil/ground to create more favourable circumstances for plant growth, development, and effective crop production.
Mulch is a technical phrase that means soil covering. Mulch is a popular term used in most agricultural farming and cultivation. Likewise, mulch is a protective covering applied on the top of the soil to mitigate the impacts of local climatic conditions. While natural mulches such as a leaf, straw, dead leaves, and compost have been utilized for generations, the introduction of synthetic materials in the last 60 years has transformed the methods and benefits of mulching. Please read the whole article to understand the basics of mulching, its advantages and disadvantages, and a basic guide to selecting a mulch.
Benefits Of Mulching
(1) Retains Soil Moisture
Mulching reduces the rate of evaporation, which helps to keep the soil moist. As a result, irrigation at irregular intervals is not necessary. This helps to keep the soil moist, preventing the soil from drying up and conserving water.
(2) Control Weeds
This is mostly the major purpose of using mulch for farmers. Weeds are one of the primary factors for reducing yield. The layer of the mulch doesn’t allow sunlight to pass through it, thus suppressing unwanted weeds.
(3) Increase soil Nutrition
Depending on the type of mulch, mulching can increase, reduce, or have no effect on soil nutrition. Organic mulch with a higher nitrogen concentration increases production and improves soil quality. Sawdust, straw, and bark are a few examples of organic mulches.
(4) Control Soil Erosion
Mulch acts as a barrier between the soil and the wind or running water, preventing soil erosion. As a result, they are not in direct contact with the soil, and the soil is not blown or washed away.
(5) Water And Fertilizer Conservation
A layer of organic mulch in the soil acts as a sponge, soaking in rainwater and preventing it from evaporating from the surface. As a result, there is less need for irrigation. Moreover, water runs off the mulch and does not enable fertilizer leaching.
(6) Prevent the Spread of Pests and Diseases
Mulch functions as a pest barrier between the soil and pests. It stops water splashing, which transmits disease spores. Plastic mulch helps control aphids, whiteflies, and leaf miners. Mulches are also effective in controlling nematodes and also can enhance soil-healthy microorganisms.
Types of Mulching
(A)Based on Organic Matter
(i) Organic Mulching
It involves using organic mulch. An organic mulch comprises natural materials such as paddy straw, wheat straw, bark, dry grasses, wood chips, dry leaves, pine needles, sawdust, grass clipping, etc. But this organic mulch material gets decomposed easily and needs frequent replacement and attracts insects, slugs, and cutworms.
(ii) Inorganic Mulching
For inorganic mulching, You can use materials like plastic films, geotextiles, Gravel, and pebbles for mulch. Inorganic mulches are extensively used in commercial agriculture. At the same time, Plastic mulch is the most common material used among all inorganic mulches. It does not decompose easily.
(B) Based on Living matter
It involves using natural mulches. You prepare these mulches from natural materials. You make them up of materials that you can find in nature. Natural mulches are another name for organic mulches. Because it decomposes quickly, it is not required to replace natural mulches.
(ii) Synthetic Mulching
Like name suggest you use synthetic mulches. You prepare synthetic mulches from non-living materials that are artificially created. Plastic films, plain and oiled paper, spun materials, and other synthetic mulch materials are available in crop fields.
(C) Based on The Application Method
(i) Surface Mulching
It is the application of mulches to the soil surface to reduce evaporation rates and increase the moisture retention capacity of the soil. Surface mulching is widely utilized as a water conservation strategy in rain-fed farming.
(ii) Vertical Mulching
It is a soil treatment used around tree roots to increase root function and health by venting compressed soil, enhancing water retention capacity, increasing infiltration capacity, and providing nutrients. Vertical mulching dig 2 to 4 m deep and 15 cm broad trenches and fill them with organic materials like grasses, straws, stubbles, etc.
Application Areas of Mulching
- Rainfed areas for moisture conservation
- Greenhouses to maintain soil temperature
- Field with soilborne diseases where it helps in solarization
- Heavy Rainfall areas to prevent soil erosion
- Cultivation of high-value crops
(Also Read- Factor affecting soil fertility)
How to Select Good Mulch?
A farmer’s choice of mulch martial is a significant one. You must use the correct mulch film to reap the full benefits of mulching.
Watch out for the thickness of the film as per crop type. For example, for vegetable and orchard crops, use a film of thickness from 15 microns up to 30 microns.
In the case of long-term use, the crop uses 30 microns; in the case of short-term use, the crop uses 25 microns. If the soil has a lot of stone, use a 150-micron film for an Orchard crop; otherwise, use a 100-micron film.
(2) Mulching Film for Testing
To test whether or not it is transferring light, use a little piece of plastic mulching paper and hold it up to the sun; if it is, don’t use it again!
(3) Buy Quality Material
Consider purchasing material manufactured from renewable resources. An excellent mulching paper has extended durability, airtightness, and thermal proofness (it doesn’t let any light through or only lets through very little light).
How To Install Mulch?
- It would be best to do crop mulching during bed preparation for vegetables but only after plantation for orchard crops.
- Before installing the mulch film, mark the rows in the field.
- Make the primary bed.
- Apply Farm Yard Manure and a base dose of 100 kg DAP and 10:26:26+ MgSO4 at 50kg per acre. Using a rotavator, thoroughly mix the FYM into the soil.
- Prepare the final beds with a top width of 75-90 cm for two-row crops like Capsicum, Cauliflower, and Cabbage, and a top width of 45-60 cm for single-row crops like Tomato, Brinjal, Chilli, and Cucumber.
- Before installing the mulch, make sure the bed is flat and remove any prior plant materials such as large stones, twigs, stems, and so on that could damage the mulch.
- Place the drip lateral on the bed and check if it is working.
- Install the mulch film uniformly on the beds, either manually or automatically, so that the mulch settles nicely on the bed.
- Cover the corners of the mulch film (up to 20 cm from both ends of the mulch) along the bed length in soil (Tip – the darker side of the mulch should always face toward the soil) and make a hole with a hot pipe or stainless steel glass.
Disadvantages Of Mulching
- Polyethene mulch removal and disposal remain an agronomic, economic, and environmental challenge.
- Plastic particles in the soil release toxic phthalate acid esters, and plants could absorb them and constitute a risk to human health when consumed.
- Pesticides and other poisons can accumulate in plastic shards left in fields. Animals feeding on crop stems are at risk of ingesting plastic or toxins from crop stems.
- Cotton crops cultivated on plastic-contaminated soils risk lint contamination.
- Plastic mulching is difficult to recycle. They are more expensive than organic mulches to produce commercially.
- The high temperature of the black film may “burn” or “scorch” young plants.
- Problems applying top-dressed fertilizers.
- Difficulty in moving machines.
(Also Read- Difference between soil fertility and productivity)
Mulching is an age-old activity that has recently gained widespread popularity. It protects the plant from extreme heat and nutrient loss and helps increase yield. By holding moisture in the soil, mulching materials help to conserve water resources. Moreover, mulching saves farmers money on farm inputs by limiting weeds and reducing nutrient loss from the soil. Prefer organic mulches over plastic mulches due to their nutrient-rich characteristics and environmental friendliness.