Mulch is any material placed on top of the soil to suppress weeds, conserve soil moisture, add organic matter, and provide an attractive backdrop for plantings. Mulch can also reduce erosion, improve the soil’s structure and fertility as it breaks down, and stabilize soil temperature fluctuations. As you can see, there are so many good reasons to make mulch a part of your garden.
But, not all mulches are created equal. While any material placed on top of the soil is technically considered a mulch, not all mulching products provide the same benefits. Your choice of mulching materials impacts the garden in many ways, and different garden areas call for digging into mulches of different kinds.
Each of these three areas calls for a different mulching material.
- In intensively grown flower and vegetable beds,you’re going to want a mulch that decomposes quickly to add nutrients and organic matter to the areas where these fast-growing annuals, vegetables, and perennials are growing. This type of mulch typically has finer-sized particles and is broken down by soil microbes very rapidly.
- In less-intensively planted tree and shrub beds, stick with a mulch that is slower to break down. These products last longer, are less expensive, and have a larger particle size.
- For walkways and paths, choose a mulch that’s very long lived. It may even be something that won’t break down at all, such as rocks or gravel. Pathways need to be mulched less frequently than areas where plants are growing, so you’ll want the mulch to last for as long as possible.
Types of Landscape Mulch
Finished mulch like Nature’s Yield Organic Compost is a useful mulch for many different reasons. It’s affordable and quick to break down, making it a great choice for intensively planted flower and veggie beds. Compost adds organic matter back to the soil faster than some other mulching products. It also spreads easily since its fine particles sift down around the plants.
Shredded Bark or Hardwood
Shredded bark or hardwood mulches are great around woody plant material like trees and shrubs. Many landscape suppliers have single-, double-, and even triple-shredded wood products, depending on how quickly you’d like it to break down. While single-shredded lasts longer, it’s coarser in appearance than the finely graded triple-shredded mulches.
When digging into mulches and discussing different kinds, one can’t forget about the freebies! Grass clippings collected from organic lawns are an excellent (and free!) mulch, just don’t use clippings from a lawn that was treated with broadleaf weed killers or you could harm your plants. Grass clippings decompose very rapidly, but because of their high nitrogen content and fresh state, they can burn young plants if over applied. Light layers of fresh grass clippings added every week or two are plenty. They are a great mulch when applied between crop rows in the vegetable garden.
How to Mulch Garden Beds
After you’ve selected the best mulch for a particular garden area, it’s time to literally get digging into mulches and learn how to spread them. Regardless of what types of landscape mulch you select, proper application plays a key role in ensuring the health of your garden plants.
Mulching tips to keep in mind:
- Be careful not to smother plants under too much mulch.Apply two inches of compost or other fine mulches. For loose mulches like straw or pine straw, keep it under four inches. For coarse-textured mulches, like shredded hardwood or bark mulch, three to four inches is perfect.
- Mulch should never contact the stems or trunks of plants. Doing so makes the plant more susceptible to disease and insect damage. Never pile mulch against the stems and bark of shrubs and trees. A good rule of thumb is to keep any mulch at least three to four inches away from the base of the plant.
- The timing of mulch applications matters as well.Don’t apply mulch too early in the spring, while the ground is still saturated, or the soil may stay waterlogged for a long time. Alternatively, don’t mulch when the soil is too dry. Wait until a day or two after a good soaking rain in mid-spring to apply your mulch.
- Apply mulch beforeweeds become problematic. Throwing mulch over existing weeds won’t necessarily smother them, and you may find them popping up through the mulch a few days later.
As you can see, digging into mulches means choosing the right product for each area and applying it properly. Though mulching isn’t a glamorous job, it is a very important one. With a good layer of mulch in place, summer maintenance chores, such as weeding and watering, are greatly reduced and your garden beds look fresh and lovely.