The Scoop on Mulch

Mulch in hands

Mulch in your garden has many benefits, let’s break it down and start with the rules.  Apply a generous layer of mulch at a maximum depth of 4 inches twice a year, once in spring and again in fall.  Tuck mulch around shrubs and trees, and sprinkle over the tops of dormant perennials.  Do not “cone” or “volcano” mulch around the base of trees, simply level it to the crown of the plant, where the base of the truck starts expanding out with the first layer of surface roots. Once applied, water the surface thoroughly, to disperse the smaller dusty particles into the soil.

Now let’s discuss the benefits of mulching.  Number one for me is weed control.  Regularly having to pull weeds is not a reason why people enjoy gardening.  A thick layer of mulch will stop germination of most of these pesky volunteers.  Number two, is moisture retention.  Mulch acts as a barrier between the sun and wind, holding natural rainfall and irrigation into the soil instead of it running off or evaporating.  The third benefit of mulching is soil temperature moderation.  Think of mulch like a cooler or a sweater.  Plants are like people in this matter, they don’t like such a range in body temperature. This effect on the roots can stress plants, thus having a negative impact on their growth. The fourth benefit of mulching is the replenishment of organic matter into the soil.  Each season, the mulch from last year is breaking down into humus.  This feeds microorganisms in the soil and they in turn release nutrients back to the plants, essentially adding free fertilizer to your garden.

So now you are standing in front of twenty options for mulch at your local garden center.  “Which one do I choose?” you say.  Basically, unless you have a preference for texture or color, all options are fair, with a couple exceptions.  If your landscape is flat and prone to standing water, pine bark mulch is not your best bet.  These nuggets will float and pile up in the lowest area.  It is generally recommended to use locally sourced mulch products.  Products labeled as native or hardwood mulch are generally locally sourced materials.  This is the most environmentally conscientious choice.  These local landscape by-products are saved from landfills and recycled back into local gardens.  Also, if you have access to a truck, bulk purchase is cheaper and relieves our landfills from those plastic bags.  So, if you haven’t mulched yet for spring, now is your time.


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