By Ali Manns

    My neighbour’s sprawling peach tree is once again adorned with glorious pink blossoms – my yearly sign that spring is truly here. There has been an explosion of activity around my yard. The drifts of borage and lavender are humming with happy bees. Leaves are bursting through all around. My chooks are clucking for their breakfast earlier and laying again as they enjoy the increasing daylight. 

    The temperatures already seen in recent weeks have given a taste of the summer that lies ahead. It is likely to be a hot one. So even though the to-do list is full with sowing veggie seeds, bringing along the seedlings, and preparing for planting out, now is the time to see to another critical task – locking moisture and nourishment in the garden’s soil to support the plants through the growing season. 


    Covering the garden soil once it warms up after winter’s chill – but before it dries out – is an absolute must. So much so, if you do not take the lead on this, Mother Nature will step in and do the job for you – because bare soil becomes dead soil very quickly. If you have ever pondered why you get a glut of weeds soon after you dig, it is because denuding the soil is akin to inflicting an open wound. 

    Nature’s response to bare soil is to apply a bandage – in the form of prolific pioneer plants, A.K.A. weeds. While not our chosen plants, they effectively shield the exposed soil from the sun, rain, and wind that might erode it. The roots also serve to knit the soil back together to support the complex underground soil food web that is the foundation of living, nutrient-cycling soil. 

    You can intervene in this weed cycle by adding your preferred cover to the soil instead, thereby saving yourself the backache of weeding, reducing the watering needs, as well as getting a better soil outcome.


    Whether your soil is bare from digging, or sitting idle until your seedlings are grown, or simply barren patches between existing plants, clothing it in mulch for the summer is a very good idea. What you use as mulch is your choice. It is an umbrella term for a range of organic and inorganic materials but some types of plants have preferences.

    Natives and perennials benefit from a woody or bark mulch that will hold moisture and break down slowly by fungal processes. For food growing beds, a mulch that offers nutrition as well as cover is appreciated by the hungry vegetables. It can be a surface created by ‘chopping and dropping’ a mix of the weeds (seed-free), cuttings, prunings, and grass that your garden naturally supplies. It can be a deep layer of straw (pea, lucerne, and sugarcane). Or it can be a mix of everything in the form of ‘lasagne’ bed building.


    Mulch does not need to be dead plant remains, of course. Living plants work too. Densely planted crops, herbs, and flowers, such as sprawling nasturtium, provide a living groundcover that interacts with the soil while also attracting pollinators and deterring pests. Fruit trees particularly love the company of guilds of plants that bring nourishment to the root area rather than compete – the way grass does. 

    Whichever mulch you decide to apply, a good deep drenching with the hose is key to setting it all into action. Future you will be incredibly grateful when you need to spend less time weeding, watering, and fertilizing this summer. And your garden will thank you too. 

    Ali Manns is a Permaculture Designer and Educator living in Yarraville and can be found at

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