Choosing the Right Mulch for your Landscape

By April 24, 2019Blog Post
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Choosing the Right Mulch for your Landscape

By Jodi Torpey

It’s easy for new gardeners to get confused when it comes to talking about soil, soil amendments, compost and mulch. So let’s set the record straight.

Soil amendments are organic materials added into the soil to improve it. Materials can include compost, well-aged manure, biosolids from treated sewage and dried, untreated grass clippings.

Mulch isn’t a soil amendment, although some mulch materials can eventually break down to enrich the soil. Instead of being dug into the soil, mulch is distributed over the top of the soil to help save water, stop soil erosion, reduce evaporation and minimize weeds.

Mulch can either be organic, like shredded bark, or inorganic, like rock. Not only does mulch give a finished look to the landscape, it helps insulate the soil by maintaining soil temperatures to keep the ground from heaving up during the predictable thaw and freeze cycles in our area.

If I had to come up with one word to describe what mulch does it would be “timesaving.”

You might not think that it saves time while you’re applying mulch after planting, but the little bit of extra effort will save time in the long run. You’ll save water because you won’t have to water as often, and there will be fewer weeds to pull. Just think of all the time that will save.

After you finish planting the perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs, and even vegetables, mulching is the next step. Apply a layer of mulch at least 3 inches deep around the root zone of trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetable beds and even outdoor and indoor container plants.

For the best results, match the type of mulch with how it will be used in your landscape:

Shredded bark. Bark chips, chunk bark and chipped Christmas trees all make a long-lasting mulch for perennial beds and around trees and shrubs. Keep bark away from plant stems. Bark many need to be reapplied every season or so for the most attractive look because it can spread or blow away on its own.

Gravel and stone. These inorganic mulches are available in many sizes and colors so you can mix them up to add interest to the landscape. Gravel mulch works especially well around perennial plants that prefer a well-drained soil, like xeriscape plants. Gravel and stone mulches work well at stopping weeds if weed barrier cloth is placed underneath.

Dry, untreated grass clippings. This organic mulch works well in the vegetable garden. Applied in thin layers, it helps conserve water by keeping the soil moist and it prevents weeds, too. Grass clippings also make a good mulch for container plantings. Be sure to keep the grass away from plant stems.

Dry, crushed leaves. Fallen leaves from trees are also a good mulch for vegetable beds. An extra bonus is they can become a soil amendment when turned under the soil in fall.

Pine needles. Another organic mulch includes pine needles. These make an effective mulch around trees, shrubs and perennials if there’s a good supply available. When used in small amounts, pine needles won’t cause the soil to become overly acidic.

Straw. Straw is another good organic mulch for the vegetable bed and it can even be used as a planting medium. The downside to straw is that it blows away easily and may need to be reapplied often.

When calculating how much mulch to buy, consider that 1 cubic yard of mulch will cover about 324 sq. feet, approximately 1 inch deep. Add more mulch to achieve thicker coverage and to make the most of its water-saving and weed-eliminating properties.


Author Nicks

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