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Mulching vs Digging In

With regards to the use of well rotted manure - is it better to mulch (leave on the surface of the beds) or dig it in? 

In my flower border for example it would be physically challenging to dig them in without damaging the many foxglove seedlings that I have dotted around..

i could technically dig in the well rotted manure to my veg beds but I wonder if it’s worth yhe effort if mulching serves the purpose? 


  • Put it on top in early Winter, job done.
    Whilst you have time on your hands because of this research something called 'No dig gardening'.
  • nick615nick615 Posts: 1,481
    celcius_kkw  Nature will do the job for you via your worm population.  Less effort.  IF you can temporarily protect your plants by using plastic bottles/pipes, they'll enable you to apply a greater depth of manure to the intervening spaces and deter weeds.
  • Mulching is definitely better. It reduces weeding and watering requirements. Also it’s better for the soil as you’re not breaking it up and disturbing the soil organisms.

    I started doing it last year and it made such a huge difference and still is. Hardly any weeds. 
    East Yorkshire
  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,862
    One of our Forum members is doing a course with the RHS and she asked about " no dig gardening" only to be told " it's not a viable form of horticulture"
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,814
    When making a new bed I dig in then after the planting I mulch.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,817
    It also depends on how much of a hurry you're in. I add a thick layer of manure to a new bed and just leave it. About 6 months on it's fine to plant into. Easier with good quality 'real' manure rather than the bagged stuff you buy though. 
    I don't really dig stuff in as such, just some extra compost when I plant something new, but if you don't want to smother those little seedlings, it would be better to wait until autumn for adding your manure @celcius_kkw. Any mulch that's organic matter will gradually break down and improve the soil, so you can add a light layer quite often instead, as it's easier to avoid any emerging plants.  :)
    A light layer also means you're not covering the crowns of any plants that could suffer if they're too deep, especially if the ground's wetter, and doesn't drown any spring bulbs, although many of those won't mind the extra depth. It's very easy to forget where those plants are too, if you're doing it when they're dormant. Easier around shrubs, trees and evergreens. I tend to do it in late winter, or in autumn, because I have a lot of ground cover. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • I’m using manure mainly as a way to replenish the lost organic matter and nutrients from the previous year’s cultivation - I will likely also add a small sprinkling of all purpose feed in the manure for a boost.

    unfortunately I don’t know any local farms that could do bulk manure delivery and given I don’t have a trailer I am not so keen on shifting fresh manure in my car either.. therefore my only option would be those ‘well rotted manure’ from garden centres / topsoil companies that do deliveries. 

    I think the well rotted stuff isn’t as suitable for winter mulching ? As the nutrients would easily be washed away in the winter rain as the plants are not actively growing and will not hold on to them? 

    To be honest, I am leaning towards mulching as less work and seemingly no less effective based on the no dig theory.. (I hope I am not starting another debate about no dig vs dig - I practise both methods depending on circumstances) - I am merely wondering if the extra effort to dig them in is worth anything at all.. 
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,817
    Mulching is really for weed suppression, and retaining moisture, so it wouldn't matter if any nutrition is lost. Many mulches offer a bit of nutrition as well as doing that, and the process of it breaking down helps the soil structure, so aids drainage or water retention, depending on the type of soil to start with.
    It's a bonus if any nutrition is there long term, so it just depends on your aims for the beds as to when you apply it    :)
    The bagged manure is fine. I've used it a few times, mainly for pots of sweet peas, as they need lots of help. I was lucky that I worked with horses, and I had a plentiful supply of fresh stuff on tap. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • RHS view on 'no dig' principles here:

    It's just one of many easily available videos or articles which show they actively promote it.
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,511
    When making a new bed I dig in then after the planting I mulch.
    Snap, Lizzie.

    I apply bagged manure on the veg beds in early Spring, Celcius, as it doesn’t need rotting down. I do mix it into the top 15cm or so. I did try leaving fresh horse/donkey field manure on top of the veg beds in winter once and the weed seeds throughout the following season were a total nightmare.
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
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