This spring, before you jump into your usual mulch routine, consider how a new approach might enhance your yard. For gardens small to large, mulch adds a finishing touch, and protects your plants to boot. So, with delightfully warmer, sunny days ahead, consider the many mulching options available to improve any landscape.
Mulch comes in a variety of materials and colors, and helps to protect both the soil and root systems; certain types even work to replenish nutrients in the soil. Your options for mulch come in two main varieties—organic and inorganic materials.
Organic Mulch Packs Nutrient-Rich Punch
Organic mulch comes from natural components. A disadvantage of organic is that it is not long-lasting, and may need to be replenished often. However, it will add nutrients to the soil through the process of decomposition. Different types include:
BARK OR WOOD CHIPS. Composed of bark and other small pieces of wood, wood chips or shavings, this mulch will give a manicured look to any garden. Various types of wood available are cypress, pine bark, waste wood, red mulch, and cedar.
COCOA BEAN HULLS. The delicious scent will keep you in the garden all day long. An aesthetic addition to flowers, this mulch also adds vital nutrients to the soil. It is recommended for use in sunny areas to prevent mold.
COMPOST. If you already have a compost pile, you’re a step ahead of the game. Use anything from yard waste—leaves, grass clippings, small twigs—to natural household items like coffee grounds, newspapers, and fruit and vegetable peels. Make sure your compost pile is aged and free of weed seeds. It is often used as the first layer, with a layer of attractive organic mulch—like bark—on top.
MANURE. Like compost, manure is primarily used as a first layer to provide nutrients. As long as it is rotted, it won’t stink up the yard, but it doesn’t get any points for aesthetic value; you may also want to cover it with a nicer-looking mulch.
Inorganic Materials Give Long-Term Protection
BLACK PLASTIC. This material is suitable for use with trees and shrubs, or in vegetable gardens that do not require regular fertilization. Plastic will keep the soil warm and block weed growth, air and water. To allow moisture in, holes can be cut in the plastic. A thin layer of wood chips is often used to create an appealing visual, but be careful not to overheat the soil with the added layer of insulation.
LANDSCAPE FABRIC. The fabric allows water and air to pass through to the soil while protecting against weeds. Like plastic, fabric can be topped with bark or wood chips.
ROCKS AND GRAVEL. If you are looking for a permanent addition to your landscaping, this may be the right material for you. This type of mulch is recommended for use around foundational plants, or areas that require good drainage. Although heavy to move, this option will keep the weeds at bay, especially when used with landscaping fabric.
RUBBER MULCH. The rock star of inorganic mulch, rubber seems to offer everything. It allows water to get to the soil without absorbing any on the way, insulates the ground better than wood chips, reduces weed growth, is a barrier to weed seeds, and comes in a variety of colors. The only thing rubber doesn’t do is add nutrients to the soil.
When deciding which material is right for you, keep in mind your mulching needs. The look of rocks might appeal to you, but if you are planting a small flower garden, cocoa bean mulch is a more suitable choice. It allows you to tend to the soil and adds nutrients to keep your flowers thriving. Is your landscaped area visible to neighbors and house guests? Choose a mulch that offers aesthetic value and easy upkeep. You also may need to use more than one material to achieve your desired effect.
Before you mulch, take a few things into consideration:
• Remove all weeds, and water your plants before mulching.
• Make sure the soil has had time to warm. A rule of thumb is to wait until mid-to-late spring to begin. Use your prep time to hunt out the best prices in your area.
• Don’t overdo it; your plants should flourish because of the mulch, not suffocate from too much.
• The coarser the material, the thicker the layer should be. Aim for three to four inches of coarse mulch and one to two inches of finer mulch. Use as many inches as you would like over areas that will not have any growth.
With fresh mulch, you can breathe new life into your dormant landscape, and jumpstart your way into the warmer months.