Did the long Labor Day weekend give you a chance to catch up on gardening chores? Or do you plan to get fall cleanup done this coming weekend? Whenever you do your fall cleanup, make sure the last thing you do is add some mulch to your garden.

Probably the most important reason to add mulch to your garden in the San Joaquin Valley and the foothills is to keep the hot sun from hitting the soil directly and drying it out. While it serves to insulate the soil from the sun, it also reduces the soil temperature fluctuations, keeping roots cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. This reduces plant stress and improves the plant’s appearance. Mulching prevents crusted topsoil from forming that may cause water to run off into curbs, gutters or sidewalks. And perhaps the best reason to cover soil with at least a 2-inch layer of mulch is to suppress weeds, by blocking light needed for germination from reaching the seeds.

Mulch is anything that you use to cover the surface of the ground. Mulch is often confused with compost. While compost may be used as mulch, its primary use is as a soil amendment. Compost is worked into the soil when creating a new flowerbed, planting seeds or transplanting a new plant.

Mulch minimizes the evaporation of water from the soil surface and reduces the need for irrigation by as much as 50%. Over time, it will decompose and