The Power of Mulch


Coping with drought and heat waves without watering

Summer 2018 and the town of Kettering in England experiences a prolonged dry spell. At the time of writing (1st August) we have had no rain for about 9 weeks. A few welcome heavy showers fell in the last weekend in July, but otherwise nothing. This dry spell followed a very wet April.

Many gardeners found it challenging to cope with this weather pattern. They found it difficult to plant or sow crops in April as the soil was too wet and then the long hot dry spell in the summer had them reaching for their watering cans until their water buts ran dry. Crops wilted and yields were very poor.

Some of their neighbours did not experience these problems, despite having the same weather. Their soil was easy to plant in, their crops grew well and they had great harvests. They did no watering. The difference is due to the Power of Mulch.

For mulch to have the power to beat deluges and droughts it needs to be thick – at least 10cm (4 inches) thick. A thin sprinkling on the soil will help, but not make a significant difference.

Mulches to use include cardboard, newspapers, grass cuttings, shredded trees or shrubs, straw or any other compostable material. Ideally place card or newspapers first, to cover the soil and smother any weeds, then the thick layer of organic matter on top.

Mulch between rows of crops once they have established in late Spring. Mulch in the winter before crops, mulch as soon as possible after crops are harvested ready for the following year. Mulch, mulch, mulch. When in doubt, mulch a bit more.

The mulch insulates the soil in a heatwave, keeping roots cool and moist. It prevents evaporation, so there is no need to water. It conserves all that rain from the winter.  Mulch encourages worms and decomposers, improving the soil for the future. It stops wet soil sticking to boots and tools in wet weather and winter; it prevents soil compaction, cracking and hardening. The soil is soft, crumbles well, is moist but not sticky and is full of worms.

See these photos, taken in the long hot summer of 2018. These plants have never been watered, only mulched.


Crunchy courgettes and enormous marrows – note the cardboard and mulch all around them


French beans, very prolific and never watered. Onions too. Different kinds of mulch used. Use whatever is available.


Beetroot and tomatoes. I watered some, but not all, of the tomatoes once to see what difference it made…. No difference at all. I couldn’t tell which ones were watered.


Potatoes, spinach and carrots – all never watered in the long hot summer of 2018


Brassicas (brocoli, brussels, kale etc). These were grown in pots first and only watered once (when first transplanted out). The netting is to protect against pigeons and butterflies.

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