(Image courtesy Native Sanctuary)
I’ve been sheet mulching in my garden for almost two years now and I thought it would be interesting to talk about the pros and cons of my experience with it.
Sheet mulching is a method of mulching that uses cardboard or newspaper to suppress weeds–you lay down the cardboard and several inches of mulch and simply leave it. Not only does this keep weeds from coming up, over time, the cardboard breaks down and enriches the soil.
It’s been interesting to me to see the effects of this method in my garden. As with everything you put in the ground, the environment responds to it and adjusts accordingly–and not all those adjustments have been good.
In fact, if you want to know the truth, I’m torn about whether to keep sheet mulching. The things I like about it, I really like. But the problems have been a lot to deal with. Let’s talk about both.
The Pros of Sheet Mulching:
No Weeds: Without a doubt, sheet mulching eliminates weeds. There is no way that any weed can get through that many layers of mulch, so once you’ve put in the sheet mulching, you’re effectively done weeding for the year. That’s great.
Eliminates Competition For Your Plants: Because there are no weeds, the plants you allow through get the full use of the soil and water. There are no weeds teeming to take the resources and your plants do better because of it.
Enriches Soil: After the first year of sheet mulching, the newspaper/cardboard had disappeared into the soil and left black, rich-looking loam in its place. Over time, there’s no doubt this would have a positive impact on the soil.
Looks Great: Although I used hay as my top layer of mulch, the sheet mulching made my garden look neat and cared for. And it stayed that way, too.
Sounds great, right? It was. But then I noticed some problems.
The Cons of Sheet Mulching:
Lots of Pests: It turns out that many pests loooooovvvvveeeee sheet mulching. The layers of cardboard and mulch is a haven for them to hide in. As a result, this year I saw a huge amount of earwigs and snails, to the point that keeping baby plants alive was a struggle. Earwigs in particular love to hide in newspaper. I have heard that sheet mulching can attract cutworms and termites too.
Lots of Work: I didn’t mind this, but it’s a lot of work to put the sheet mulching in. You have to lay all those layers down, and that takes time and effort.
Can Cause Water Problems: Water can stay right on top of your sheet mulching and drain away from your plants if you aren’t careful. Consequently, the water can also get trapped underneath the sheet mulch, which can cause aeration and drainage problems.
Voles: Technically, voles are just another pest, but in my case, they were more like an infestation, and so they get their own category. Voles are mouselike rodents that burrow underground and eat plants by the roots. They are like gophers except that instead of just one of them in the garden, there are probably about 20-30. It turns out that voles love sheet mulching because it provides them a cover that they can burrow under and stay protected from predators. They did so much damage that I had to pull all the sheet mulching out and resort to some ugly methods to reduce the vole population (that’s another post) and they still completely obliterated many of my crops and caused me a lot of headaches–and heart aches–this year.
While the sheet mulching isn’t wholly responsible for the voles, it did offer them protection and something to nest in, and it is enough to make me think twice about it in the future.
(Courtesy The Website of Everything)
If you have sheet mulched, what has been your experience?