To be successful in the farming sector you have to know about the advantages of mulch in commercial farming. Success in modern farming depends on proper knowledge of using modern farming technology or instruments and the uses of different techniques. Mulch is one of the best environment-friendly processes to protect the natural moisture of land and produce more yields. Protected cultivation stands as a revolutionary approach to achieving maximum yields over the past decade, addressing challenges such as global market expansion, diminishing arable land, and the impact of climate change.
This method involves full or partial control of the microclimate surrounding plants, shielding crops from unfavorable conditions. Presently, this practice is gaining traction in tropical nations, particularly for the high-value cultivation of flowers and vegetables.
What is Mulch:
The word ‘mulch’ comes from the Old English word, ‘molsh,’ meaning ‘soft and moist.’ Now mulch is defined as a protective layer of decomposed plant material applied to minimize water loss and soil erosion. In broader terms, it falls under the category of protective coverings, which are designed to shield against harm or injury.
It serves as a protective ground covering, encompassing materials such as manure, sawdust, seaweed, debris, crop residues, sand, pebbles, natural elements, and even plastics. Mulching, as a term, denotes the practice of applying these substances to the soil surface.
Its purpose is to minimize moisture evaporation and maintain consistent soil temperatures, particularly in the root zone, thereby addressing significant diurnal temperature fluctuations.
Functions of Mulch:
Multiple purposes mulching has also enormous functions. The function of mulch includes controlling evaporation losses and reducing energy input required for evaporation by blocking solar radiation from reaching the ground.
Its primary function is to retain optimal soil moisture levels, lower soil temperatures, prevent seedling mortality, and enhance crop establishment. Moreover, mulching suppresses weed growth, reducing competition for water and nutrients, thereby making more resources available to the crop plants. Additionally, it facilitates improved downward water movement in the soil.
The effectiveness of mulches in preserving moisture is typically higher in regions with increased rainfall, during drought conditions, and during the early stages of crop growth when canopy cover is limited.
Purposes of Mulch:
As the advantages of mulch are many the purposes of mulching are also a lot. The main purposes are maintaining soil fertility, and shielding it against erosion from water and wind. conserving moisture and enhancing landscape aesthetics with provide the garden with a polished appearance.
It also supports the production of clean and high-quality products, safeguards plants and their yields from insect pests and diseases, regulates soil temperature throughout the growing season, suppresses weed growth, and also ultimately boosts overall crop production. But in the case of vertical farming, you don’t have to think about it.
Types of Mulch:
Mulches can be broadly categorized into two types: organic and non-organic mulches. Both of them offer unique advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right mulch for your specific needs and type of farming.
Advantages of mulch:
Mulch conserves soil moisture, reduces water needs, and suppresses weed growth, promoting healthier plants and higher yields in gardens and farms. Additionally, it moderates soil temperature, preventing extreme fluctuations that can stress plants. Here we are trying to find out the benefits of mulch in detail.
1. Soil Moisture Conservation:
Numerous abiotic factors play a significant role in soil moisture depletion, ultimately leading to its transformation into unproductive barren land. These factors encompass a range of elements, including strong winds, elevated temperatures, severe climatic conditions, and competition from unwanted plant growth, such as weeds.
Research (Harris and others, 2004) suggests that the presence of weeds alone can contribute to a substantial loss of water, estimated at up to 25%, primarily through evapotranspiration.
The implementation of mulching techniques has emerged as a promising strategy to combat weed infestations, mitigate evaporation losses, and improve both soil percolation and moisture retention rates.
Studies (Russell, 1939) have proved that the application of straw mulch, for instance, can effectively reduce the evaporation rate by as much as 35%.
2. Minimizing Soil Compaction and Erosion:
Mulching materials help as protective barriers for the soil, shielding it from the erosive forces of wind and water while simultaneously mitigating soil compaction, a condition that can harm crop roots and hinder overall plant growth and development.
An illustrative example of this protective function is the use of living mulch, such as growing grass on slopes, which effectively curbs soil erosion by binding soil particles into a cohesive unit.
Research (Borst and Woodburn,1942) found that the application of a thin 0.6-inch layer of mulch could result in an impressive 86% reduction in erosion rates.
Another study (Megahan, 1974) proclaimed that when straw mulch is combined with erosion nets, the results are even more notable, with a staggering 95% reduction in soil erosion observed in forested areas compared to barren soil conditions.
3. Regulation of Soil Temperature:
Naturally, Mulching covers the soil surface, and that is why, it is helpful in maintaining the soil temperature which is a crucial factor for optimizing crop growth.
Numerous studies have revealed that mulch applications effectively regulate soil temperatures, keeping them cool during scorching hot climatic conditions, and maintaining warmth during cooler, more moderate temperatures.
The careful management and control of soil temperature are very critical factors for achieving ideal plant growth.
A study (Martin and Poultney, 1992) shows that in particularly hot and arid environments, such as desert regions, mulches have been shown to reduce temperatures by a significant margin, as much as 10°C when compared to barren soils.
4. Soil Fertility Improvement:
Organic and living mulches can significantly enhance soil quality by increasing nutrient levels. Nevertheless, the specific material used, soil characteristics, and prevailing climatic conditions collectively determine whether this impact results in an increase, or decrease or has no discernible effect on soil nutrient levels.
Research (Kader and others, 2019) says that utilizing organic mulches proves advantageous due to their ability to decompose in suitable conditions, thereby enriching the soil with essential nutrients.
Numerous studies have shown that materials such as wood chips, straw, green manures, and bark mulches offer a more substantial nutrient contribution when compared to inorganic mulches.
5. Mitigation of Salt Stress:
Ensuring the health of our soils is crucial for sustainable crop production and food security. However, the escalating issue of soil salinity, which now affects approximately one-third of the Earth’s land surface, is exacerbated by anthropogenic disruptions and various other factors.
The misuse and mismanagement of these saline soils result in adverse consequences, including soil erosion, diminished crop yields, reduced soil water retention capacity, a decline in soil biodiversity, and ultimately, desertification and carbon loss.
Furthermore, irrigating crops with untreated wastewater, rich in salt content, can have detrimental impacts on crop growth and development. Additionally, (Chalker-Scott 2007) the excessive use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, detergents, and other chemicals can significantly increase salt levels in the soil, further exacerbating the problem.
Mulching proves to be an effective solution for addressing salinity issues, primarily by improving soil water retention and minimizing evapotranspiration. Numerous studies have demonstrated that mulching reduces the toxicity of salts in the soil.
Research (Dong and others 1996) proclaims that Organic mulching materials, in particular, have been found to be highly beneficial for soil reclamation and the process of soil desalinization.
Another study (Gan and others, 2003) says organic mulches can undergo decomposition by microorganisms, leading to the breakdown of harmful residues and a reduction in salt contamination. However, plastic mulches are not widely used for salt mitigation purposes.
6. Plant Growth, Development, and Yield:
Mulching plays a pivotal role in enhancing plant growth, development, and ultimately, yield. By providing a protective barrier over the soil surface, mulch helps conserve soil moisture, reduce evaporation, and maintain consistent soil temperatures.
This creates optimal conditions for plant roots to access essential nutrients and water, fostering robust root development. Furthermore, mulch acts as a natural weed suppressant, minimizing competition for resources. According to Rashid Iqbal and others, mulching can increase agricultural yield from 7 to 47%.
Additionally, it prevents soil erosion and reduces the impact of soil-borne diseases. These combined benefits not only improve plant health but also contribute significantly to increased crop yields, making mulching an indispensable practice in sustainable agriculture and horticulture.
7. Diminution of Diseases:
Mulching materials possess the capacity to minimize evaporation losses and preserve soil moisture, consequently lowering the demand for irrigation water.
It also helps as a protective barrier against the erosive force of irrigation water and the impact of raindrops that may carry disease spores.
Moreover, mulches support the proliferation of beneficial organisms that compete with incoming pathogenic spores or even release chemicals inhibiting pathogens, thereby reducing the likelihood of disease outbreaks.
Emphasizing the promotion of microbial colonization through mulching can further facilitate the biological control of harmful pathogens. This underscores why organic mulches like straw and woodchips are preferred over polyethylene and fabric mulches when it comes to disease prevention.
8. Decline of Weeds:
Mulching proves to be an effective tool for managing weed populations, both in nursery and field settings.
It is (Wilen and others, 1999) found that there was 92% reduction in the weed population as compared to non-mulched treatment. The application of mulch on the soil surface serves as a light barrier, leading to decreased germination of small-seeded weed species.
A study (Stinson and others,1990) shows that involving 15 various mulch types compared to non-mulch conditions revealed that all mulch types had similar effects on weed reduction, whereas a noticeable difference was observed when compared to bare soil treatment.
9. Reduces Water Evaporation:
Mulch works as a shield against the sun’s heat, effectively decreasing water evaporation and ensuring your plants remain well-hydrated. Whether you choose organic or inorganic mulches, they both act as a protective cover for the soil, reducing moisture loss. Utilizing mulch enhances moisture retention in your landscape beds, contributing to the overall health of your garden. It also reduces watering in the field.
10. Attracts Beneficial Insects:
Mulching not only conserves soil moisture and suppresses weeds but also acts as an attractant for beneficial insects. Organic mulches, such as straw or wood chips, provide a favorable environment for beneficial insects like ladybugs, ground beetles, and parasitic wasps.
These insects are natural predators of many common garden pests, including aphids, caterpillars, and other harmful insects. By offering shelter and food sources like nectar from cover crops or nearby flowering plants, mulch creates a hospitable habitat for these beneficial insects.
As a result, they are more likely to establish themselves in the garden, helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem and reduce the need for chemical pesticides.
11. Reduce Using Heavy Metals:
Heavy metals pose significant threats to both human and animal health. Mulching materials offer an effective means of soil remediation by facilitating the removal of these harmful heavy metals.
Typically, leaves from trees such as arborvitae, eucalyptus, pine, and poplar are utilized for extracting heavy metals from the soil solution.
When woodchips and compost are employed in forested regions, they can form complexes with copper metals, transforming them into non-toxic forms that promote the healthy growth of crop plants.
So, mulching plays in mitigating the adverse impacts of heavy metal contamination in the environment.
12. Diminishing of Pesticide Use:
Mulching materials can alleviate plant stress and combat various pathogens. They bolster plants’ resistance to weed infestations and harmful pests, ultimately obviating the need for fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides.
This reduction in chemical usage not only benefits farmers by saving them money but also supports the proliferation of beneficial soil organisms and contributes to a healthier environment.
Economic importance of mulching:
When individuals consider the utilization of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, and mulches, they typically weigh the associated costs and benefits. Mulching materials, in comparison to synthetic alternatives, present a cost-effective solution for soil health and crop performance.
The adoption of mulch negates the need for expenses related to pesticide procurement and other weed control methods. The utilization of locally sourced wood debris to rehabilitate damaged lands not only boosts farmer income but also fosters improved crop growth and development.
In urban settings, brush mulch has been identified as an effective and economical choice for roadside re-vegetation. Furthermore, readily available materials like peat and timber harvest residues offer cost-effective means to enhance overall crop growth and development.
Disadvantages of mulching:
While mulch offers numerous benefits, it is important to be aware of its potential disadvantages. Firstly, improper mulching, such as applying it too thickly, can lead to moisture imbalance, causing root rot or plant stress.
Secondly, certain mulch materials, like wood chips, initially tie up soil nutrients as they decompose, potentially affecting plant growth. Additionally, mulch can create a favorable environment for pests like slugs and snails, leading to increased infestations.
Furthermore, some mulches may contain weed seeds or introduce diseases if not properly prepared. Lastly, the cost of purchasing and applying mulch, especially for large areas, can be a financial burden for some gardeners and landscapers.
Utilizing diverse mulch materials has the potential to effectively preserve soil moisture, mitigate evaporation losses, and control weed proliferation. Various mulching methods have demonstrated noteworthy influences on the growth, yield, and quality of different crops.
However, there are conflicting viewpoints on mulching’s efficacy, with some scientists reporting adverse effects. It’s worth noting that these reported disadvantages are generally less pronounced in practical field conditions, where the advantages of mulch tend to be more prevalent and substantial.
In summary, it can be concluded that mulches offer a cost-effective means of diminishing weed populations and preserving soil moisture at a significant level. Consequently, well-executed mulching practices have the potential to offset crop water requirements during water scarcity or drought situations.
Furthermore, the integration of mulch systems such as wheat straw, cotton sticks, black plastic, and maize straw with partial root-zone drying presents an efficient approach to improve overall crop growth, development, and ultimately, yield.