Well, I've said it before and I think I'll take this opportunity to say it again!
MULCH! MULCH! MULCH!
It's not that 'little' extra... its absolutely VITAL! Not only does it help with water retention at the root of your plant like most people mention... no no... it does SO much more. Gimme a minute to sell you on it.
Before we talk about types and costs... let me explain simply all the whys. This way you'll be ready to run out and get all the mulch you need ASAP.
1.) Water Retention - Like stated above, save yourself some time having to water again and again. Mulching will help hold water in the dirt longer.
2.) Root Shading - Some plants may be hot season plants and enjoy 80 degree weather on their tops, but their roots sure do need some shade from scorching. Some plants are so tender in that sense they couldn't survive without root mulching or at least base planted grasses and such to protect their root, like clematis.
3.) Disease protection - Many diseases that attack your plants come directly from the dirt they live in. Many fungi and bacteria thrive in the dirt, maybe even working in harmony with the roots... but if allowed to get airborne or simply splash up during a heavy rain and get on your plants leaves; well... all H#7% can break loose. Example: Blight
4.) Weed Control - It may not keep ALL weeds out of your precious beds, but it could cut your weeding down significantly. I've seen more then a 80% reduction in the amount of weeds in my veggie beds by simply mulching every season. My back thanks me!
5.) Permanent Paths - So not only IN the garden, but around the garden. You don't want to step on your plants or too close as you can damage the unseen roots, as well as cause soil compaction. This pushes the vital amounts of air in the soil out that the plants need to thrive. So mulch out your walkways so they are easy to stay on, also keeping weeds out of those paths so less need to mow and cause even more compaction and stress on the ground around your growing area.
You know whats sad? I could go ON and ON and ON about how great MULCH is... but I'll take a minute to give you some mulch options... because shoot... it can pretty much be WHATEVER you think of or have on hand at the time. So add to the list!
(I've labeled these with $ as cheapest(or free) $$ mid price $$$ expensive)
Wood mulch $$$
Grass clipping $ (make sure it was before the grass went to seed)
Hay or straw $$
Shredded News Paper $
Pine Straw $$
Weed Fabric $$$
So, you see where I'm going with all this? This Mulching thing; total amazing! So scream it from the mountain tops... share this with a friend... and don't forget, whatever you are growing, whatever you are planning for your garden.... JUST MULCH IT!!!