Mulch guide – Just like Mother Nature
When you think about it mulching is nature’s idea. Take a nature hike and you’ll see fallen leaves, needles, twigs, pieces of bark, withering flower blossoms, fallen fruit and berries, and other organic material.
Following nature’s lead can help your garden too! Adding mulch around your trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables will keep plants healthy and drastically reduce the amount of time spent weeding, watering, and fighting pests.
Garden Mulching Benefits
Adding a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch around your plants will keep them healthy and reduce landscape maintenance. When mulch is applied correctly, your plants and soil will gain many other benefits as well:
- Conserves soil moisture that can be lost through evaporation
- Keeps the soil well-aerated by reducing soil compaction that results when raindrops fall
- Reduces water runoff and soil erosion
- Prevents soil and possible fungi from splashing on foliage, which reduces the risk of soil-borne diseases
- Maintains a more uniform soil temperature; warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer
- Prevents trees and shrubs from damage by lawn equipment
- Improves soil structure: as mulch decays, the material adds nutrients to the soil
Different Mulch Types
There are two basic types of mulches: organic and inorganic. Both types have advantages and disadvantages
Organic mulch is made out of natural substances such as bark, straw, leaves, grass clippings, and pine needles. Because it is natural, organic mulch decomposes over time, making the soil rich by releasing small amounts of nutrients and organic matter. Since it decomposes, you’ll need to add to organic mulch continuously to maintain a 2- to 4-inch depth. Organic mulch attracts insects, slugs, worms, and birds that eat it.
Inorganic mulches such as gravel, pebbles, rocks, black plastic, and rubber do not attract pests and do not decompose, so they don’t have to be replaced. This type of mulch is great for weed control, but you have to be careful that it allows water, nutrients, and air to flow to plants. You may have to add to inorganic mulch to keep it looking full from time to time.
Basic Garden Mulching Practices
In nature, leaves, and needles fall to the ground, creating an organic layer that protects and builds the soil. Local green waste mulch can offer the same advantage to the landscapes you design and maintenance while increasing your profits. Making and using green waste mulch recycles plant material into a valuable tool for the landscape professional.
Here are extremely important Mulch basics ;
- Before applying mulch, remove weeds and water thoroughly. You’ll get the best weed control when you weed first then spread the mulch. And it is often easier to wet the soil before applying mulch.
- Replace grass with mulch under trees and around poles. Mulching under trees to the drip line minimizes competition for water and nutrients from grass and mimics the way trees grow in nature. It simplifies mowing and can reduce trimming operations and labor. Also, mulching around poles, tree trunks, and over surface roots prevents damage from mowers and weed eaters.
- Keep mulch 6-12 inches away from the base of trees and shrubs. Tree trunks are not suited to wet conditions. Placing mulch so that you can see the root flare keeps the trunk dry and reduces the risk of damage from disease, insects, and rodents.
- Choose the application rate that
will give you the best results.
- General Use: Apply a layer that settles to 2-4 inches deep. This is the best general application rate, especially for use in planting beds.
- Fine Mulch: Apply no more than 2 inches. Thin layers of fine mulch (particle size of half-inch or less) are less likely to impede air and water. Fine mulches decompose more quickly and need to be replenished more often than coarse, woody mulches.
- Coarse Mulch: Use 4-6 inches or more to control weeds in open spaces. Coarse mulch is best for weed control; it prevents annual weed seeds from germinating. Weeds that do sprout are easier to remove. For maximum weed control, replenish mulch once a year.
- You can have too much of a good thing: Use lesser amounts of mulch on poorly drained soils.
- Keep mulch on top of the soil to prevent tying up nitrogen. Any wood material that is incorporated into the soil will temporarily inhibit the soil’s ability to supply nitrogen to the plants. However, according to research, mulch only uses nitrogen at the soil surface, and not from the root zone. If you do not turn the mulch into the soil, you’ll prevent nitrogen drag.
How to Apply Mulch in your Home Garden
For Plant Beds:
Before applying any type of mulch, it is best to weed the area. Spread a layer of mulch over the entire plant bed. Keep mulch 2 to 3 inches away from stems of woody plants. This will prevent decay caused by wet mulch and rodent damage during the winter. Keep mulch 6 to 12 inches away from the walls of buildings.
Newly planted trees require a 3- to 4-inch diameter circle of mulch. Maintain this for at least three years. Do not pile mulch against the trunk. For established trees in lawns, create a circle of mulch about 2 feet in diameter for each inch of trunk. Try to apply the mulch at least 6 inches beyond the drip line of the tree.
How Much Mulch
The adage, if some are good, more is better, doesn’t work with mulch. Excessive application of mulch can result in plant roots growing in mulch rather than in soil. The amount of mulch to apply depends on the texture and density of the mulch material.
Wood and bark:
Mulches made from wood and bark should not be more than 2 or 3 inches deep. Excessive amounts of this type of mulch can suffocate plant roots, resulting in poor growth.
Pine bark and other coarse mulches allow good air movement and can be as deep as 4 inches.
Grass clippings and shredded leaves should never be deeper than 2 inches because these materials tend to mat together restricting water and air supply to roots.
When to Apply Mulch
The best time to mulch new plantings is right after you plant them. Around established plants, it is best to apply mulch in the spring after the soil has warmed. If you mulch too early in the spring it will delay soil warming and plant growth.
How often mulch needs to be replenished depends on the mulching material. Grass clippings and leaves decompose very quickly and need to be reapplied frequently. Inorganic mulches like rocks and gravel rarely need replenishing. As plants grow and fill in the bed areas, less and less mulch is needed.
Types of Mulch – Improve your garden
Mulch is a gardener’s best friend. Mulching flowers, trees, shrubs, and vegetables will not only keep your plants healthy, but also will drastically reduce the amount of time you have to spend weeding, watering, and fighting pests in your garden.
Using mulch also improves the appearance of your garden and keeps dirt from splashing on your flowers and vegetables when it rains. It also helps conserve moisture loss from evaporation and keeps the soil well-aerated by reducing soil compaction.
There are two basic types of mulch; organic and inorganic. Both types have benefits in the garden and may be used for different purposes. Use the lists below to explore the advantages and disadvantages of some common mulch materials.
Organic mulch is made out of natural substances. Because it is natural, organic mulch decomposes over time improving the soil by adding nutrients. Many organic materials can be used as mulch. The materials should be weed-free and non-matting. If the materials are readily available it will save you time and money. These types of materials decompose quickly, so you’ll need to replenish frequently.
Grass clippings, leaves, and small twigs can be used as mulch in moderation. The backs of shrubs or borders are an ideal place to dispose of small pruning clippings. Ideally, these materials should be shredded or composed before applying, however, small amounts can be added to existing mulch.
Straw decomposes rapidly, so you’ll have to replenish it to keep weeds down. Straw is cheap, but not very attractive, so it is best used in a vegetable garden or on newly seeded lawns.
Pine bark, pine needles:
A layer of pine bark is good for weed control. Pine bark is longer lasting than pine needles but may get washed away in heavy rain. Pine needles make excellent mulch for acid-loving trees and shrubs. Needles also allow water to penetrate easily.
This material contains bark and wood pieces of various sizes. It makes attractive mulch and provides good weed control. Small wood chips decompose very rapidly using nitrogen from the soil, which needs to be replaced with fertilizer. Wood chips may attract insects.
Inorganic mulches do not decompose, so they don’t have to be replaced. If you have problems with rodents and insects, or you don’t want to constantly replenish mulch, this is the type you want. Inorganic mulch is also great for weed control, but because of its density, you have to be careful that it allows water, nutrients, and airflow to plants.
Rocks and Gravel:
Rocks will keep weeds away and will stay put in heavy rain. You can buy rocks or gravel fairly cheap, but if you’re covering a wide area it will take some work to place it because it’s heavy to move. When you use rocks in your landscape, they are permanent, so it’s best to use them around permanent plantings like foundation plants.
Plastic is not recommended as a mulch material for landscape plants. While it does help control weeds and conserve water, it does not allow water, nutrients, or air to move freely to the soil. Plants with plastic around them often develop a very shallow root system that is damaged easily in drought or cold weather.
You can get landscape cloth in many lengths and widths or cut it to fit your needs. Unlike plastic films, woven materials allow water and air to move through them. They are also very effective in controlling most weeds. You can put a cloth down under rocks for effective mulching around foundation plants.
Rubber mulch is a relative newcomer to the mulch market. This inorganic mulch is made from eco-friendly materials that last up to 10 years without fading or decomposing. Rubber mulch is in a category by itself because it is great for use in landscaping and playgrounds. Here are some benefits of rubber mulch.
- Will not rot or compact even after years of use
- Does not attract harmful insects
- Five times heavier than wood mulches, and will not float or erode during heavy rain or flooding
- Inhibits the growth of molds and fungi, reducing allergy risks
- Provides a soft surface to help reduce stress on joints and to keep children safe on the playground
- Absorbs the shock of impact from falls
After looking through the list of mulch materials and weighing the pros and cons of each, you’ll know the best choice for you. No matter which material you choose, it’s best to apply mulch in late spring after the soil has warmed. If you apply mulch too early, it will delay soil warming and plant growth.
Mulch Materials – Much ado about mulching
If you’ve gone to the trouble of landscaping a section of your yard, it makes sense to polish it off with a layer of landscape mulch. The options out there are numerous, and depending on your landscaping and area, some may be much more sensible than others. Whichever you choose, remember not to pile it on more than three inches thick and to leave a little space at the roots of trees and bushes to allow breathing and prevent fungus and rot.
First, you’ll need to decide how much labor you are willing to commit. Your garden will always be a work in progress, but different mulches need a little care now and then. Stone mulch requires the least amount of work, but they may increase the temperature and make some plants uncomfortable. Also, should you change your mind; it is a tedious decision to reverse.
An organic mulch, anything from pine bark to walnut shells, is nice if you don’t mind replacing it every year or two. Natural mulches also decompose into your soil and replenish trace micronutrients. However, many of them fade quickly from the vibrant tone that attracted you in the first place.
The Dirt on Mulch
Newly developed rubber mulches last practically forever and need little care, but some are put off by synthetic highlights in their garden. This is remedied nicely due to the wide selection of colors and textures available. Other unconventional options are plastic mulch and newspaper mulch. Below is a starter list to get you thinking about which is right for your garden. Thankfully, any mulch will greatly reduce the time spent weeding, watering, and cleaning your plants.
- Mixed Bark:
A moderately priced mulch that is your all-around winner. Classic and good-looking, an excellent weed deterrent, and affordable. Plan on replacing the bark every two years.
Another affordable solution. Pine needles look natural, allow perfect water penetration, and decompose very slowly.
Though more expensive, don’t plan on having to completely renew your stones. Water seeps through easily and weeds pop up less. You’ll probably want a mesh layer underneath to prevent the soil from swallowing them up.
A unique, although expensive option. Cork requires only a thin layer and does not move much or decompose. Both water penetration and weed control are above average.
The best thing about choosing a type of mulch is that the majority of them will fortify your soil and are not a permanent decision. Have fun and experiment with the look that best complements your garden.
Where Does Shredded Mulch Come From?
Each year homeowners and landscapers use mountains of shredded bark mulch in shrub and flower beds, around trees, and in nurseries. In addition to improving the aesthetics of a landscape, mulch helps prevent erosion, controls weeds, and holds moisture in the ground. Shredded bark mulch is usually sold as single, double, or triple shredded, with the single shredded being the coarsest and the triple shredded the finest. Single shredded is the form of mulch that comes directly from the sawmill. Double and triple shredded mulches are created by regrinding the mulch in a tub grinder, further reducing the particle size.
Even though single shredded mulch is much less uniform with more large pieces of bark mixed into the product, it does last the longest when applied to landscape beds. The finer ground mulches are more popular due to their more uniform particle size, but they do tend to break down more rapidly.
Shredded bark mulch is a by-product of the timber industry. Before rough-cut logs can be moved into a sawmill to be cut into lumber, they must first have the tree bark removed. This debarking process not only removes the unwanted bark, but it also removes dirt and debris which may otherwise damage circular saw blades in the milling process.
Below are six photos of the step-by-step process used in producing shredded mulch.
Saw logs are stockpiled according to the wood type
A front end loader is used to move rough-cut logs
Logs are lined-up on a platform for debarking
One by one the logs are fed onto a roller system
The darker moves back and forth removing bark
The shredded bark travels by conveyor onto a truck