Ground cover in the garden: the different solutions, advantages and disadvantages


Ground cover is a concern for all gardeners because it is fundamental on so many levels. It suffices, moreover, to walk for example in the forest to see the richness of the soil which, of course, is never bare. Nature doing things very well, we can certainly take inspiration from it so that arable land is protected all year round, but also naturally nourished and therefore fertile, capable of meeting all the needs of future plantings. Let’s put the spotlight on what’s called mulch Where mulch, without failing to take stock of their advantages and, if any, their disadvantages.

Covering the garden soil: advantages and disadvantages

A bare earth is exposed to theerosion, to leaching by rainwater, which also promotes the leakage of soluble particles or the phenomenon of leaching but not only ! In the garden, the earth therefore be protected. Cover her with multiple advantages, to know :

  • Limit the compaction of the earth or beating of the soil during heavy rains, the mulch acting as a shock absorber,
  • Slow down the development of weeds by depriving them of light. These are local grasses with spontaneous development which are wrongly called “weeds” and which are classified as undesirable.
  • Reduce the time spent on hoeing.
  • Keep the soil cool by slowing down the evaporation process, which allows you to water less often. This therefore limits the risk of damage that a drought can cause.
  • Allow rainwater or irrigation water to be more gradually redistributed.
  • Protect plants against the cold in winter and heat in summer since a mulch acts as an insulator.
  • Reduce the drying effect of the wind.
  • Retain the heat of the day and therefore limit thermal shock when the nights are cool. It is also said that mulch acts as a thermal buffer.
  • Slow down the progression of gastropods, so that the young leaves are protected, which slugs and snails are very fond of.
  • Preserve but also promote the life of the soil by protecting all the cultivation aids. In other words, allow the development of a certain fauna.
  • Recycle green waste when it is used as mulch.
  • Fertilize the soil since as it decomposes, many of the materials used to cover the soil are transformed into fertilizers as they decompose.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables clean since they are not splashed by rain or irrigation water and this minimizes the risk of them being damaged because they are no longer in direct contact with the soil. Opting for mulching can therefore, as a consequence, reduce the risk of fungal diseases or fungal diseases.
  • Allow the gardener to use less products such as fertilizers, antifungals and others.
  • Overall reduce the time to be devoted to the maintenance of the garden.

Opt for a ground cover when it is already cultivated is a solution adopted by countless gardeners. In some cases, the advantages that we have just reviewed benefit in the great majority of cases vegetable plants, shrubs, ornamental plants … In addition, depending on the solution chosen, we can take advantage of its decorative aspect.

Note that, even if it is often said that a good hoeing is worth two waterings, it is not recommended to abuse the hoe to which we may prefer mulching as soon as we opt for a solution that does not does not modify the structure of the soil except to improve it. Hoeing is perfect when you want to break the crust of dry earth or weed at the foot of a few plants. But it is not recommended when it comes to treating a large garden area or mulch is more suitable.

As to disadvantages of mulch, they are much less numerous than its strengths. But they should not be neglected for all that. The main complaints that can be made with a ground cover in the garden are as follows.

  • Some plants should not be used as mulch because they negatively impact the life of the soil. This is the case of thuja, of the horsetail, of pine or even the fern, certainly renowned for their antifungal properties (they are also made into liquid manure or decoctions to treat plants). But they end up destroying the activity of all the fungi by acidifying the soil. However, like mycorrhizae for example, many such organisms are very useful for good soil health.
  • Mulch can retain too much water and promote the suffocation of microfauna or even cause rotting of the root system of many plants. This is a phenomenon that can be encountered during a particularly rainy period if the ground is covered.
  • Mulch not suitable for recent sowing. It is necessary to wait at least 2 to 3 weeks before mulching the young plants.
  • It is not recommended to mulch plants that are sensitive to moisture.
  • Covering the soil prevents plants from reseeding spontaneously.

Finally, note that you should never mulch the garden too early because the soil must be able to warm up sufficiently under the spring sun.

How to cover the ground in the garden?

There are three main families of covers for the ground in the garden:

  • Mulches of plant origin : they are clearly given preference in any type of garden as their strengths are numerous. But it is useful to know how to choose the plants used to compose a mulch.
  • Mulches of mineral origin : if they keep the soil cool and also insulate it against cold and heat, they are on the other hand incapable of nourishing the soil since they do not decompose. They are preferably used in an ornamental garden in order to hide a protective film such as geotextile fabric, for example.
  • Artificial mulches : as it is not natural to use them to cover the ground in the garden because it is not at all their role, these mulches are qualified as artificial. We can forget them because they are of no interest.

Before opting for one or the other of these solutions, let’s take stock of all their specificities.

Waste from plants

This category includes:

  • Dead leaves,
  • The mowing of the lawn,
  • Flax sequins,
  • Hemp,
  • The bark,
  • Straw,
  • the Miscanthus,
  • Cocoa beans,
  • Walnut shells,
  • Fruit stones,
  • Shredded young woody twigs or deciduous branches (this is called Bois Raméal Fragmenté or BRF),
  • Waste generated by garden maintenance such as pruning plants for example, provided they are healthy,
  • Kitchen waste such as peelings, eggshells …

All these elements serving as natural mulch decompose and therefore participate in the soil fertilization. These are the most ecological and the most economic. No wonder they are so popular.

Mineral mulches

These are mulches made up of materials which, unlike plant mulches, do not undergo any decomposition process. These are the ones we choose to bring decorative touch in the garden because today we have a panel of color of the richest. But in addition to enhancing the plants and more generally the garden from an aesthetic point of view, a mineral mulch has some advantages which benefit the plantations.

In this category, we find among others:

  • The sand,
  • The stones,
  • The gravel,
  • The pebbles,
  • The pebbles,
  • The crushed tile,
  • Slate debris,
  • The pieces of brick,
  • Pozzolana …

However, it should be noted that it is difficult to work the soil once the mineral mulch is installed. It is not suitable for the vegetable garden, nor for flower beds, but is ideal in a rockery or a dry garden.

Artificial mulches

They are not recommended since in addition to being unsightly, they don’t have no beneficial effect on the ecosystem. These are for example:

  • Burlap,
  • Cardboard,
  • Plastic …

It is therefore better to opt for another category of mulch.

Small special mention, however, for the forcing sail which turns out very useful over a short period. For example, you can put it in the vegetable garden to protect a seedbed against heat and lack of watering if you have to go on vacation for one or two weeks.

A mulch suitable for cultivated plants

Before covering the ground in the garden, it is obviously essential to consider the plants that this will necessarily impact. Some do not like having their feet covered, as is the case with thegarlic, of the’shallot, of the’onion, and more generally of all plants that tolerate humidity very poorly. It is quite logical. At the most, we can be satisfied with offering them a very dry mulch, to know straw because it is light, airy and does not ferment. For it to provide excellent protection against low temperatures, it should be laid at the foot of plants in a thick layer.

We can see how necessary it is to ask ourselves what type of mulch is best suited to the plants we are growing. The difficulty therefore consists in finding a cover solution for each type of plant, knowing that if you make the wrong choice, many plants can suffer.

Cover the soil with healthy mulch

In any case, it should be remembered that in the vegetable garden, any soil cover made of a material that has been treated with a toxic and / or polluting product that will always end up penetrating the earth is banned. An old palette repainted with different coats of paint or varnished should in no case be crushed to make a mulch! Likewise, not all plant debris can be used to cover the ground of a garden. This is the case with plants that have been pruned because they were colonized by parasites or infected by a disease. It is necessary use common sense in order to avoid contaminating all its plantations.

Finally the gardener should not hesitate to vary the waste that will make up its mulch. In this way he obtains a natural material which, by decomposing, will provide a great diversity of nutrients on the ground, which is essential for good health and the perfect development of plants.

What about ground cover plants?

It is an excellent solution to cover certain areas of the garden with ground cover plants. This avoids leaving the earth bare and allows them to take advantage of their ornamental effect. In this way, weeding quickly becomes unnecessary, the soil is protected and the water no longer runs off. Be careful, however, not to install them too close to the vegetable garden or beds in which you want to plant other types of plants because the ground covers become invasive after some time …

It remains to choose them well, depending on the climate, the exposure, the type of soil … There are some for dry gardens, very shaded areas, semi-shaded or sunny, cool soils, long flowering, decorative foliage …