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One of the most important gardening considerations is the maintenance of a good mulch, and when it comes to camellias, it is equally important. Fall and winter is an excellent time to replenish your existing mulch in the camellia garden. In many ways, our efforts to add mulch to the garden will mimic what takes place in nature. In the south, we are all familiar with the chores of raking leaves and pine straw during the fall to keep our yards looking nice and neat for the holiday season, but in reality, our efforts are combating nature’s way of replenishing the existing mulch. Instead of burning those leaves and pine straw, it may be more beneficial to redistribute them to our gardens including the areas where we grow our camellias.
Mulch may be described as a layer or organic or inorganic material on the surface of the soil. Many times we choose to install our garden mulches with aesthetic considerations in mind. For example, if we install pine straw as mulch and have areas to be mulched under trees that shed leaves, we usually wait until all the leaves have fallen before we install the new layer of pine straw. Our rational is that the appearance of the mulch will look better if it is all fresh pine straw on the surface. There is nothing wrong with aesthetic considerations when it comes to selecting mulch, but it is more important to consider the utility values of the mulch.
Mulch has many functional or utility factors that should be considered in selecting a particular material to serve as mulch. Some of the most important utility functions of much are conserving moisture in the soil, providing a more even surface soil temperature for the plant’s surface roots, adding source or organic material to the soil, reducing soil erosion, keeping the area around the plants cleaner by reducing dirt splatter from rain, and minimizing weed contamination in the garden by minimizing weed seed germination from reaching the surface of the soil. Good mulch for our camellia gardens should provide all of these utility functions.
There are many materials that make excellent mulches in the southeastern United States. As mentioned earlier, leaves and pine straw are readily available and are probably the most popular choices for mulching. By-products of the wood industry such as shredded cypress mulch and pine bark are also excellent choices for mulching when these materials are readily available. In certain local areas where agricultural products are processed, materials such as peanut hulls, cottonseed, and crushed corn cobs may be considered as well. Because all of the above mentioned materials are organic, they will have a limited shelf life, and will need to be replenished over a period of time. The frequency of replenishing the mulch will depend on the material selected and the actual environmental conditions of the garden. For example, pine straw may provide sufficient mulch for the garden for several years in a shady location, but the same material may need to be replenished every year if it is in a sunny location that has lots of moisture.
Mulching should be applied at sufficient layer to achieve the utility functions of the mulch, but care should also be given to not install “too much” mulch. Generally a 3-4 inch layer of most organic mulches would be considered appropriate in our area. Mulch that is too thick can reduce the oxygen level to the roots, keep the root system from drying out in some instances, and prevent adequate moisture from reaching the roots in other instances. As valuable as mulch is to our camellia gardens, it is equally important not to overdo the mulch installation.
Inorganic mulches are becoming more readily available. Certain inorganic mulches such as recycled rubber type products are being manufactured in different colors that can have pleasing aesthetic values to certain parts of our gardens. These materials will usually last longer that organic mulches, but consideration should be made to the fact that these materials to not add organic material to the existing soil. Too much inorganic mulch may not be a wise choice.
Our camellia gardens are a valuable part of out lives by providing us with countless hours of enjoyment all year, and especially during the winter blooming season. Providing an adequate functional mulch will insure healthy plants that will continually reward us with beautiful floral displays in the future years.