Mulching 101

Garden Mulch

When we think of the word “mulch” we tend to envision brown, bark-like material applied to a flowerbed, but did you know mulch exists in many forms? Let’s explore why mulch benefits your gardens and what options are available for your home and budget.

Applying mulch to your garden reduces weed growth, which will have a beneficial impact on your plants. Weeds deplete soil of nutrients and moisture when they grow and therefore limit the supply to the plants you want in your garden. They also have the ability to choke the root systems of your plants and cause them to die.

Water evaporation is slowed significantly from soil wherever mulch is applied. Watering a flowerbed that is mulched will cut evaporation by 50% over a flowerbed that is uncovered. Mulch that is applied shortly after new plantings can increase the ground’s moisture and promote healthier root growth.

Mulch Terminology

Just a quick reminder: Gardeners and landscapers use the term mulch for different things!

Gardeners look for mulch that can be mixed in with the soil of growing plants to provide nutrients to their plants. Landscapers (and most people) say mulch is a ground cover that limits the growth of weeds.

Both mulches are used to limit the evaporation of water. Both can also piled up around plants and trees to protect them from cold weather.

Mulch Options

Various types of mulch are available for your garden. You may be familiar with:

  • Shredded Hardwood Bark Mulch – An inexpensive and easy-to-find option that’s great for gardeners and plants because it enriches the soil under it with nutrients. This mulch is created by a lumber company’s debarking machines, which strip bark from a felled tree. Make sure to confirm with your mulch supplier that your purchase is 100% hardwood bark mulch.
  • Pine Bark Mulch – While this mulch does not break down as easily as other mulches, it does make great filler for potting soil.
  • Wood Chips – Often a free option from local tree trimmers. Be sure to find out if the source tree had poison ivy to prevent infecting your garden. You should also know that these chips can sap nitrogen from your ground as it decomposes, so it may not be the best for an active garden or flowerbed.
  • Cocoa Hull Mulch – Featuring a fine texture and rich color, this non-fading mulch is a favorite for gardeners, although it is one of the most expensive mulches around.
  • “Red Mulch,” “Brown Mulch,” and “Black Mulch” – Sometimes your only options for mulch are the color you choose. Mulch with a uniform color is usually dyed that way. These mulches are usually 100% ground wood and not bark. This mulch provides no nutrition to plants around it. On the other hand, these mulches are great to create weed-reducing ground cover.
Mulching tips

Mulch should be applied in relatively thin layers — only two or three inches thick.

Mulch Application Tips

Don’t just pour mulch on to your soil. There’s actually an art to it!

  • Best Time to Mulch – The best time to mulch a garden or flowerbed is in the late spring, when your soil has properly warmed up after the winter.
  • Weed First – Contrary to popular belief, mulch won’t smother weeds, it will just hold them off for a while. Your best bet is to pull any visible weeds prior to mulching an area.
  • Apply Newspapers – To further limit weed growth, lay out old newspapers on the ground before you apply mulch. As you place them, spray them with water to keep them from blowing away. The newspapers create a biodegradable barrier that most weeds can’t penetrate.
  • Mulch Depth – While it may be attractive to have huge mounds of mulch, you really only need two or three inches of mulch to properly cover an area. Any height larger than that and you create a haven for pests, including termites.
  • Around Trees – Don’t place mulch in direct contact with a tree trunk. Doing so can promote bark rot and help pests invade the tree.
  • Around Building Foundations – Don’t place mulch directly against the foundation of your home or shed. This can provide a hidden access path to the building for pests.

Mulch Alternatives

Did you also know you can use alternative natural materials as mulch? Consider using:

  • Grass clippings – A cheap and readily available material. These clippings are great for adding nutrients to a vegetable garden or at the base of a tree.
  • Decaying leaves – This mulch helps to retain more moisture than average ground cover. For best results, shred them before applying them as mulch. This helps them break down quicker and keeps them from blowing away.
  • Compost – Use this material to supply your garden with an abundance of healthy nutrients as it breaks down. FYI: Because it’s a mix of many materials, compost mulch is rarely attractive.
    Rubber Mulch Tips

    Rubber and recycled mulch has an incredibly long life — it can last up to a decade.

  • Straw – Although cheap and easy to apply, straw is less ornamental than other mulch options. Remember that there is a difference between hay and straw! While hay offers nutrients, it also contains seeds that can sprout in your mulch area, straw does not.
  • Rubber (shredded reusable materials) – This material is extremely long-lasting (up to 10 years!) but it does not provide any nutrients to your soil. Rubber mulch is excellent at suppressing weed growth.
  • Decorative Stone – Stone is very long-lasting option that also holds heat or stays cold much longer than alternative mulch materials. It also tends to be expensive.

Your Mulch Choices

Whether you use a traditional or non-conventional material for mulching your garden, your plants will appreciate you taking steps to keep them well-watered. With benefits like fewer weeds and a more uniformed looking garden, what are you waiting for? Get started this weekend!

When you’re done with your mulching project, post a picture of your effort on our Facebook page. You can also get more articles like this from the Avant Garden Decor e-Newsletter, as well as notifications about the site’s great deals on gardening and outdoor supplies.

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