What is Mulch used for?

House landscaping
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What is Mulch used for?

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself “Why do we use mulch?” There’s a good chance, if you’ve been working on your yard or garden, you’ve either thought about laying some mulch around or have already. I’m willing to bet there are many who only spread mulch because everyone else does and they like the way it looks.

The truth is, mulch is essential for the health of your landscape. It helps to hold moisture, control weeds, and to prevent soil erosion. Mulch is remarkable stuff, and any yard or garden not taking advantage of it is missing out.

First of all, what exactly is mulch?

On the surface (pun intended) there’s an easy answer. Mulch is any material that is laid or spread over the surface of the ground as a covering. If we dig a little deeper though, it gets a bit more complicated since there are so many types of mulch.

Common Types of Mulch

I can assure you that there aren’t different types of mulch for aesthetic reasons only. Some are better at holding in moisture, or better at weed control as an example. The type of mulch you need will vary depending on your goal. To determine what mulch you need, you’ll have to learn what each type of mulch is and what it’s good for.

Rubber Mulch

Are you trying to do your part in helping to reduce, reuse and recycle? If yes, then rubber mulch might be an excellent choice for you. It works well for landscaping and gardening and is fantastic as an outdoor flooring material.

Rubber mulch is usually made from tie rubber which has either been chopped up or shaved from tractor-trailer tires when they are being retreaded. While rubber mulch isn’t organic, it does serve some organic purposes.

For example, rubber mulch is much better at insulating soil from heat compared to wood mulches. Also, rubber is a non-porous, so no moisture gets absorbed and lost as it makes its way through the mulch into the soil below.

Rubber mulch is very popular used as a ground cover for playgrounds. It’s safer for children than wood mulch since it does a better job of breaking falls thanks to its elasticity, and it doesn’t biodegrade and need to be replaced every couple of years.

Bark Mulch

As the name might imply,  it comes from the bark of trees. To be specific, it’s bark from various conifers, like pines and firs. Bark mulch is unquestionably aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also beneficial for growing plants. For example, it slows moisture evaporation, and as it biodegrades, it adds nutrients back into the soil. One drawback of bark mulch, however, is that it’s lightweight and can be pushed around by wind or rain.

Hardwood Mulch

Being inexpensive, hardwood mulch sees extensive usage in gardens and other landscaping. Hardwood retains moisture well and does a fair job insulating the soil. It’s mostly useful around plants which don’t need much acidity since it breaks down adding alkaline to the soil. Plants that need higher acid levels will require acid-increasing fertilizer.

Leaves

They are (usually) free and doesn’t take much work, and they can work well. There are, however, a few caveats when using leaves as a mulch.

Using too thick a layer of leaves can have some negative effects on your soil. The leaves can mat together and keep air and water from reaching the dirt, and they can hold too much moisture creating the potential for rot and fungus. The best thing to do is shred the leaves first, but problems may still occur if you lay it on too thick.

Straw and Hay

Straw and hay are most popular for vegetable gardens. They keep soil and soil-borne diseases from getting splashed up onto plant leaves, and it helps make paths less muddy. Straw decomposes slowly and will usually last for the entire growing season. It makes a nice home for beneficial insects who will help keep the pests under control. Last but not least, it’s easy to rake up or work into the soil adding organic material benefiting next season’s plants.

Rocks / Gravel

Rocks can be handy and function similar to rubber mulch as they allow for better water flow without absorbing it. Also, like rubber, rocks help the ground stay warm, just not in the same way. Whereas rubber acts as an insulator, rocks absorb the heat from the sun during the day, then releases that heat keeping the ground warm through the night.

Just be careful when using rocks because other material can build up between the rocks which could inhibit air and water from reaching the soil as well.

So Why Mulch?

It would be easier to ask why someone wouldn’t mulch, rather than why someone should as there are so many different reasons. The benefits of mulch are numerous. Healthier soil, greater plant growth, moisture control, weed control, and aesthetics are just a few that spring to mind. Maybe your goal is a better harvest, or maybe you want the best-looking yard on the block, mulch is going to be a key factor in pretty much any scenario.

With all the varieties, finding the best mulch for your situation can be easy. Many share similar properties, but each one has something the others don’t.

The Final Straw (another mulch pun)

Mulch is a beautiful thing. Even with its drawbacks, it’s much more beneficial than many other things you can do in your yard and garden. Mulching will keep your plants growing stronger and healthier, your soil staying moist and weeds from growing.

Mulch makes you work less pulling weeds, watering, and maintaining proper soil health. All you need to do with mulch is rake it about occasionally, and depending on the type you use, maybe replace it every few years.

Now you know what mulch is used for and what it can do to your garden. As you take care of it, mulch can be the greatest thing you ever did for your landscape.

Best Flower Bed Mulches
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What is the Best Mulch for Weed Prevention?

The best mulch for weed prevention will depend on a few considerations: what else you need it to do, where it is laid and of course, what kind of garden or area you are mulching.

If you ask any experienced gardener what the most critical factor for a healthy garden is, you may get a few different replies, but one of the top answers is guaranteed to be mulch. Amending the soil yearly and adding liberal amounts of organic material are also crucial factors, but the knowledge gained from years of experience says, “cover your dirt!”

Mulching is, by definition, covering your soil with a protective layer. Materials vary and can be organic or inorganic, semi-permanent or compostable. Mulch is used to help avoid drought, discourage weeds and retain warmth to keep bulbs and plants warm. However, the focus is really on what it does for the soil beneath.

Don’t take our word for it though; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has said “mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial practices you can use in the garden” and the Arbor Day Foundation said, A newly planted tree’s best friend is mulch.”

How does mulch prevent weeds?

Mulch prevents weeds in a number of different ways. New weed seeds need dirt to grow, and a thick layer of mulch helps prevent the seeds from ever reaching the soil. As for the seeds or roots that are already in the soil, mulch blocks one of a plant’s essential needs, sunlight. Weeds will try to fight their way through, but if your layer of mulch is thick enough, it will suppress all but the most resilient.

The Least Expensive Methods

It’s not always necessary to purchase mulch if you have no aesthetic requirements. Homeowner associations may have requirements to consider, and the whole point of a flower garden is its aesthetics. However, a vegetable garden is different, especially if you’re growing food for the purpose of saving money.

The best inexpensive mulch that also benefits your soil includes sawdust or wood chips, compost, grass clippings, leaves, or straw.  

Be sure to avoid herbicide-treated grass clippings. They will devastate your garden, and the only thing you’re likely to be able to grow will be corn.

When using straw, it is best to find bales that don’t have seed heads unless your intention is to grow wheat. Also, try to find organic straw bales. Sometimes wheat is sprayed with a glyphosate herbicide just before harvest and could kill your broadleaf plants.

It’s important to remember that grass, leaves, and straw, can contain weed seed, so once they decompose, they add more seeds to the soil. To avoid this, you will regularly need to add more to choke out the light.

Nonorganic Mulches Gold Dyed Landscaping Pic

Rubber mulch does not decompose, so you won’t have to reapply it every year. Also, it is available in a variety of colors making it the most visually appealing option of the nonorganic mulches. The downside is that being nonorganic; it will not decompose and add any nutritional value to the soil. This, however, is easily resolved by using fertilizer.

Weed barrier is a nonorganic option that does well at weed suppression, but it is not at all pleasing to the eye. Most gardeners use them in vegetable gardens though they can also be used as a layer underneath other mulch that looks better. This is worth the extra work to some gardeners; others will instead use organic materials that can be left to eventually become more soil.

Organic Mulches (pretty ones)

Shredded or chipped bark doesn’t break down as quickly as some other organic mulches. While this means it won’t provide much nutritional value to your soil, it also won’t need to be replenished as often. These mulches come in a variety of woods and colors to match your aesthetic needs. Some favorite woods used for mulch are cypress, pine, cedar or other hardwood by-products available from sawmills in your area. Bark mulches also work well in several different settings but are particularly useful around trees, shrubs and on pathways.

How to Apply Mulch for the Best Weed Control

The most common mistake people make when applying mulch is not using enough or using too much. To smother the weeds and retain moisture within the soil, the layer of mulch needs to be at least 3 inches thick but no more than 3 inches or you could do damage to tree trunks and shrubs. Even two inches of mulch can let through enough sunlight allowing weed seeds to germinate.

Don’t push mulch up against the plants. Keep the mulch at least an inch or two from tree trunks, shrubs and the stems/stalks of your flowers and vegetables. When it’s right up against a plant, it can hold moisture and cause your plant to rot.

Since organic mulches break down (and improve your soil), they need to be replenished. You should add an inch of mulch to your gardens either in spring or fall every year to maintain the necessary three inches.

The Good and the Bad

Every mulch material has its pros and cons. Straw can harbor insects and weed seeds. Grass clippings can mold and compact. Wood chips and shredded wood require fertilizer to add nitrogen to the soil. Plastic needs to be removed at the end of the season and reapplied the next.

What mulch you use will depend on where it’s being used, your budget, if you want to remove it, till it into the soil every year and if you have a preference for organic or nonorganic products. Be sure to research all the pro and cons of each before choosing what will work best for your garden.  You can also check out our other articles that go more in depth and are specific to flower gardens and vegetable gardens.

Mulch will benefit every area of your garden. Whether you make your own, like grass clippings and leaves, or whether you order in bulk or buy bags of it at McCarty Mulch & Stone, be sure you use MULCH.  While your plants and soil will thank you for the benefits of mulch, the weeds won’t!

Best Mulch and Soils for your vegetable garden
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What are the Best Mulches for Your Vegetable Garden?

The Use of Mulchhands holding dyed black mulch

Using mulch in the vegetable garden has not only become very popular but is almost seen as a necessity due to the benefits. There was an outstanding paper written by a Texas A&M Professor explaining that A well-mulched garden can yield 50 percent more vegetables than can an unmulched garden the same size. Properly mulching can control weeds, conserve moisture, help maintain a consistent temperature within the soil, help prevent disease, and enrich the soil with organic matter. It also makes your garden more physically appealing.

The effects are not always beneficial though; you must consider the type of mulch you use really depends on what effect you want to have which will largely depend on what you are growing. Some potential adverse effects include the growth of fungus or mold, introducing weed seeds, creating a home for insect larvae, and cost, but the benefits seem to outweigh the potential problems.

 

So, what’s the best mulch for your vegetables?

Generally, those who farm organically use organic mulches which are readily available and typically cost less. There are many types to choose from as well, and as mentioned above, should be chosen based on your needs.

Climate and soil type are two considerations. If you live in a hot, dry area, you will want a mulch that can retain moisture well and keep your soil from overheating such as straw or pine needles. Conversely, If you live where it is cool and wet, you would not want to retain too much moisture as most vegetables perform poorly in wet, heavy soil.

While some vegetables thrive in cooler environments such as most greens, and broccoli, others like tomatoes, peppers, and melons prefer heat. For the heat lovers in a cooler climate, you could benefit from a heat retaining ground cover like plastic. If you want to stay organic, there are cornstarch based biodegradable plastic films available. You will want to make sure you have proper irrigation as the plastic will not allow rainwater to permeate, and be sure to recycle if you use regular plastic! For the cooler vegetable types, you can use bark and chipped wood mulches just be sure to use a good compost with it as wood can steal nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down. Don’t be afraid to use wood mulch over the top of plastic also if you are concerned with aesthetics (plastic is ugly).

 

Pros and cons of the most common vegetable garden mulches.

Bark and chipped wood mulches (organic)
Use a two or three-inch layer for proper weed control. Wood chips decay slower than bark and can leach nitrogen from the soil as it does, so if you use it, monitor the pH level of your soil. Both shredded bark and wood chips are readily available at garden centers or from mulch suppliers like us if you need more than a few small bags. Both can come in a range of colors and sizes to satisfy your aesthetic preferences. The Harvest to Table website recommends allowing wood chips to decompose for a year before using them with nitrogen-enriched soil, and nitrogen should be added before using wood mulch. Wood mulches should be replenished every year to every three years depending on how long it takes to decay. Remember to keep mulch 2 inches away from stems to avoid rot and fungus issues.

Straw (organic)
Straw breaks down quickly, and more will be needed to gain the same benefits as compost or wood mulch. If it is fine-textured, you might need less of it to make a 4-inch layer of mulch after it settles. Straw is a favorite for many vegetable gardeners due to its availability and low cost. Before settling, it should be 6 to 8 inches deep on top of the soil to use it as mulch. It is great to cover your vegetable garden’s soil over the winter so by spring you can till the decomposed straw with the soil for structure and nutrients. Dry straw can blow away so you may want to avoid it if you live in a windy area.

Compost (organic)
Compost can be some of the best mulching material for a vegetable garden. If you make your own, it is inexpensive and typically free of weed seeds. Yard waste like grass clippings should be composted first to prevent it from leaching nitrogen from the garden soil during decomposition. Although, don’t be surprised if you see weeds in your vegetable bed a bit later since piles of composting grass clippings are great for wind-blown seeds to take root. For this reason, you should consider using another organic mulch on top of the compost. A better use is to till it into the soil as makes an excellent soil amendment. Be careful with composted manures because they can burn young vegetables if used as mulch since nitrogen content can be very high. It is better if you mix it one part per three of another organic mulch before using it.

Plastic (organic if you use the cornstarch based biodegradable plastic film)
Plastic can be very effective as a mulch when appropriately used. Black plastic in the spring warms the soil by up to 8°F which is excellent for tomatoes, though it may raise soil temperatures too much in mid-summer which could damage plant roots. A great way to prevent this is to make sure you have a good dense foliage cover, or you can cover with another organic mulch like wood mulch to avoid direct absorption of sunlight. It also blocks light from the soil which discourages weeds. Clear plastic can warm the soil better than black, but since it does not block the light, weeds can grow beneath it. Gardeners can use different colored plastic films as the different colors can have various effects depending on the plant. Organic gardening standards will allow the use of non-organic plastic films on the condition they are gathered at the end of the growing season since they are not biodegradable.

Monitor the soil beneath the plastic to ensure it stays moist and cut holes if water is not getting through. Another plastic on the market is porous which allows water to penetrate and the soil to aerate.

More about the benefit of different colors:

  • Black. Does well-controlling weeds and warms the soil in the spring by up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Brown. Works just like black mulch but looks better.
  • Red. Reflects far-red rays from the sunlight back onto plants, which improves production of tomatoes by up to ten to thirty percent.
  • Green. Improves performance of melons and squash in climates with cooler summers.
  • Silver. Deters harmful insects such as flea beetles and thrips nervous and reflects more sunlight back onto the plant.
  • White. Weed control without the soil warming, so it is great for hot summer climates.
  • Clear. Allows infrared light to pass so it raises soil temp for early spring planting more than black plastic but doesn’t control weeds as well.

 

Still don’t know which mulch is best for you?

With all the variables to consider:

  • Climate
  • Soil
  • Type of plants
  • Availability
  • Cost
  • Aesthetics

Sometimes the best way to find out the best answer is simply trial and error, but we hope our guide gets you started in the right direction!

 

Best Flower Bed Mulches
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Spring is Here, Time to Mulch! But which is the Best for your Flower Garden?

Mulching is just as much about function as it is about form. dark mulch bed

Mulching your flower garden is a basic but essential habit. Beyond inhibiting weed growth, it moderates the temperature so in cold weather zones the mulch protects roots from freezing and helps to prevent frost-heave which literally pushes plants out of the ground because of the natural expansion/contraction of the soil as it heats and cools. In warmer areas with hot summers, it keeps roots cooler as it blocks direct sunlight to the soil which can also cause the soil to dry out and harden. Instead, it holds moisture in your soil, so you have to water less.

Some types of mulch are free and can be found right in your backyard, or you can purchase other types locally. You might need to experiment to determine what you and your plants prefer since the right mulch can make all the difference and with all the different choices available it can be challenging to decide which mulch is best for your flower garden.
Mulching is often thought to be a basic part of gardening, but there is much to learn regarding the various types of mulches and the benefits provided by each. We will touch on the most common.

Organic Mulches

Mulches made from organic materials will break down similar to compost increasing the soil’s structure and its fertility. Compost used as mulch or used with mulch makes this, even more, the case as it will add nutrients that promote the growth of organisms in the soil that aid in the growth of your flowers.

Shredded Bark or Wood Chip Mulch

Organic, environmentally friendly, inexpensive, looks attractive and breaks down slowly. This is one of the best mulches to use. It comes in a variety of colors and from a variety of woods such as oak (hardwood) and cedar (softwood).
Traditional, mulches such as Cedar, Cypress and premium hardwood varieties can provide a soft, natural look to landscapes. These mulches are simple to spread and require no curing time before watering. Cedar and Cypress mulches also give off an appealing aromatic scent that many people enjoy.

The other choice is colorized mulch, available in traditional Black, Brown, Red, and Gold, and our color enhanced premium mulches available in Buckeye Brown. These mulches offer more aesthetic appeal. Our non-toxic, vegetable-based colorant is safe to use and will not hurt plants, pets, or children. However, colored mulches need a little more care in the beginning. Colored mulches should be allowed 24 to 48 hours after spreading to allow the color to permeate the mulch and become stable. Don’t let this mulch come in contact with concrete or other porous surfaces until it is cured. It is also wise to make sure you have a few rain-free days. However, after curing, the colored mulch is stable and will provide a long-lasting color throughout the season. Choose a colored mulch to enhance or contrast your home’s color and make your landscaping pop.

Many people choose to use different mulches in their landscape for both practical and aesthetic purposes. For example, traditional or colorized mulch may be used for plantings, while in high traffic areas you may want to use an economy mulch that is chunkier and will break down more slowly. While this mulch is not known for its nutritional value, it will still provide the other benefits. Whether you use a color enhanced mulch or a traditional non-colored mulch, just be sure it is good quality and will provide all the benefits it should to your landscape.
A few things to keep in mind though. Pine Mulch tends to be a bit acidic which may be desirable, or it may not, depending on the flowers you choose to grow, and most wood-based mulches can steal precious nitrogen from your soil as they decompose but this is easily remedied but using conventional fertilizers and plant foods.

Compost
Organic, environmentally friendly, and inexpensive. Compost can look just like the soil, but darker, which makes your flowers look amazing. It breaks down quickly, so it does not last long, but in doing so, it adds to the soil’s structure and nutrients. The downside is that there is little to no weed suppression and actually gives the weeds a place to take hold. Also, if it contains manure or grass, it can burn your plants if you’re not careful.

Inorganic Mulches
Inorganic Mulches can be very aesthetically pleasing. They don’t break down (quickly), and typically don’t need to be reapplied every year but can be expensive. Since they don’t break down, they don’t do anything to improve your soil over time, so depending on your flowers you may have to fertilize regularly.

Stone and river rock
Inorganic, doesn’t break down and can be expensive. Rock used as mulch can look great, but a significant consideration is how hot it can get in the summer months as rock does nothing to insulate the soil. Rock also does nothing to keep the weeds away, most gardeners who use rock will lay down a landscaping fabric first, and since landscaping fabric will eventually break down, it will need to be replaced.

Shredded rubber
Inorganic, doesn’t attract insects and can be expensive. Shredded rubber can be obtained in a variety of colors and can look great in a garden. There is a drawback however, rubber does eventually break down (though very slowly), and when it does, it can release contaminants into the soil.

The best mulch for your flower garden?
After you’ve chosen your flowers and determined which mulches will provide the most benefit and the aesthetic you desire, the most important thing left to consider is how much work you are willing to do. Do you want wood chips or shredded bark that needs to be reapplied once or twice a year, but does wonder for the soil and weed control? Would you rather not have to reapply and use rock, and need to fuss with landscape fabric (or weed often)? While obviously not your only two choices, it gives you an idea what I mean when I say, the best mulch for you is the one you are willing to maintain. Every mulch has strengths and weaknesses, making it appropriate for some gardens but not others. Whatever mulch you choose though, don’t choose not to mulch.

wagon filled with mulch
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7 Things You Ought to Know About Mulch

Selecting mulch in today’s market may seem a lot like shopping for ceramic tiles: you have seemingly endless color options, including brilliant blue, dark red, ruby red, black, amber, gold, green or basic brown. With mulch increasingly being praised for its decorative properties, it’s easy to lose sight of the benefits that it can bring to your landscaping and gardening projects.

Before rushing off to grab your designer choice in mulch, make sure you understand what you should be doing to get maximum benefits. Here are 7 things to consider:

  1. Understand the benefits of mulch. Keep in mind that the whole business of mulching is to help your soil retain moisture, prevent the growth of weeds and minimize erosion. That’s why experts recommend that you start laying mulching before the temperatures get too hot.
  2. Choose mulch from trusted suppliers. It’s important that your mulch provider follows best storage practices. According to Purdue Extension specialists, if wood mulch has been improperly stockpiled, it can sour. This can cause problems with your plants, causing damage or total loss. Signs that you’re using sour mulch: plants look like they have been burned by fertilizer or pesticides shortly after the mulch is applied. Take a tour of your supplier’s property if you have concerns.
  3. Remove old mulch. Before laying new mulch, remove some of the mulch in the bed, especially if it has been built up for several seasons.
  4. Choose colored mulch as an accent. When selecting mulch, especially the more brightly colored types, keep your overall landscaping, home, and plants in mind. A dark neutral mulch can provide a nice contrast to colorful plants, while rich brown pine bark can complement a more subdued landscape.
  5. Use the right amount. About 3 inches of mulch is adequate for most applications. With delicate plants, try 2 inches of mulch so you don’t smother them.  If necessary, apply another thin layer of mulch if you find that weeds are pushing through in your beds.
  6. Mulch around trees and bushes. Don’t stop at mulching around plant beds. Your trees and bushes could also use some attention to ensure that they’re protected and receiving adequate moisture.
  7. Don’t forget winter mulch. When you apply mulch before winter hits, you protect your plants from wide temperature fluctuations in the soil, which can be damaging. Applying mulch in the winter is a process that is designed to keep plants dormant — not warm.  Timing is essential. Don’t apply it too early, or plants may become smothered and diseased. Instead, apply it after the temperatures remain consistently below freezing and plants are completely dormant. Winter mulch isn’t about decoration, it’s about function: choose straw, grass clippings and pine needles to start.

Unsure where to go for the best mulch in greater Indianapolis? Contact us for diverse options at a great price.

Pile of Leftover Mulch
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5 Ways to Use Your Leftover Mulch

Finished spreading this season’s mulch but still have some to spare? Look at that leftover pile as a golden opportunity! Mulch is good for more than just flower beds, so before you add another layer around your roses, consider using the extra in a new kind of way.

  1. Upgrade Your Mailbox Landscaping

A small wheelbarrow-load of mulch is probably all you’ll need to give your mailbox post a fresh upgrade. While you’re at it, why not transplant a couple hostas or flowers? They’ll add more color at the end of your driveway, and the fresh mulch is sure to help them flourish!

  1. Donate to the Neighbors

If you’re one of those people who finished mulching early on your block, you can always deliver a small load to one of your neighbors. Everyone likes a free gift, and they’ll definitely appreciate the gesture—even if you’re too tired yourself to help them spread it.

  1. Make a Mini Mulch Path

Just because your front yard is looking sharp, it doesn’t mean you can forget about the back! Once all of your trees and landscaping have their mulch, try adding wood mulch around your raised-bed gardens. A layer of three or four inches will help define the space between the garden boxes and create a nice pathway for you to reach your veggies.

  1. Spread it as “Killing Mulch”

For those especially hardy, out-of-control plants, mulch might be your secret weapon. Whether you’ve been battling an army of ivy for years, or a patch of running bamboo, extra mulch can help finish the job. Simply cut back as much of plant as you can, and then bury it deep under a mulch avalanche. A foot or two of “killing mulch” works to smother even the toughest of weeds.

  1. Keep the Extra for Next Year

You can always store your leftovers for later in the season if you’re ready to call it quits for now. All you need are a couple tarps and an inconspicuous place to hide the pile. Spread your mulch evenly over the first tarp so the airflow can prevent any mold growth. Then just anchor the other tarp on top to act as a roof. You’ll be able to dig back in when the time is right. And if you happen to see any thin, white strands in the mulch later on, fear not—it’s probably mycelia, a kind of fungal spore that’s actually good for plants.

With these tricks up your sleeves, you’ll be able to make the most of your mulch pile every year. There are plenty of ways to utilize your extra mulch, so get creative and have fun with your landscaping. Even small projects can make a big impact!

Mulching Around Bushes
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Working with Mulch: Tricks of the Trade

What’s so hard about mulch?  You shovel some around your plants and bushes, and that’s it, right? Not exactly.

There are a few tricks of the trade to getting the most out of your mulch delivery.  Apply too much, or in the wrong place, and you could choke out your plants.  Skimp on the mulch, and you don’t derive any benefits – because the point is to improve nutrition, weed control, and moisture retention.

To help get the best look and the best results for your landscaping, here are a few tips for how pros install mulch.

Mulching Tips

  • Do not place mulch directly against plant crowns or tree bases. Mulch placed directly in contact with stems or tree trunks may retain excess moisture around the base of the plant.  Overly wet soil can foster a whole host of diseases, including crown rot. High piles of mulch can also become a bit of a varmint hotel, attracting predatory insects and bark and stem-eating rodents.  Give the base of your plants and shrubs a little bit of room to breathe.
  • Mulch applied too thickly anywhere can cause problems In fact, it can cause a whole cascade of problems. A wood mulch when piled more than three inches high will start to rot much faster than usual.  It can create a thatch-like mat that keeps water from penetrating through to the soil below. Therefore, the plants you were hoping to protect are suddenly deprived of the moisture they need to live. Mulching too deeply can also cause the soil to remain continuously damp, but not nourished, contributing to root and stem rot problems in addition to depriving plants of needed oxygen. Apply a mulch layer no more than one to three inches thick.
  • Thoroughly water newly installed wood or bark mulches.  Many good quality mulches are stored in large piles that reach high temperatures.  When the mulch is spread or bagged, the high-temperature tolerant microorganisms that inhabit the mulch die as the mulch cools.  If the mulch is allowed to dry out or remain dry, nuisance fungi can colonize the mulch and create a water-repellent surface.
  • Add a source of nitrogen to garden soils before applying woodderived mulches.  Soil microorganisms that decompose organic materials such as wood-based mulches are effective competitors for limited soil nitrogen. So, if you fail to apply some nitrogen to the soil under your garden mulch, you could unwittingly be setting the stage to deprive your plants of needed nutrients. This may cause temporary nitrogen deficiencies especially in annual and perennial plants. Yellowing of leaves often indicates a nitrogen deficiency. Lightly incorporate a source of nitrogen such as bloodmeal, urea or a high nitrogen lawn fertilizer before applying mulch, and your landscaping will be good to go.

Make the work you do on your landscaping count.  Do the job right the first time; take the time to occasionally water and rake your mulch, and you will enjoy the effects all season.

Different Types of Mulch
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Which Mulch Should I Use?

As warmer temperatures inspire us to leave our indoor cocoons, thoughts turn to the annual ritual of landscape mulch. With so many choices of mulch on the market, how do you choose which kind is right for you?

Most mulch made from trees will provide protection and nutrients for your plants, shrubs and trees, as well provide moisture retention, soil conditioning, erosion and weed control. Mulch also provides a finished and aesthetic appeal to landscapes.

After purchasing mulch from a reputable company, the kind of mulch you choose then becomes a personal choice.

TRADITIONAL – Traditional, non-colored mulches such as Cedar, Cypress and Premium Hardwood varieties provide a soft, muted, natural look to landscapes. These mulches are easy to spread and require no curing time before watering. Cedar and Cypress mulches also give off an appealing aromatic scent that many people prefer.

COLOR – Another choice is colorized mulch, available in traditional, Black, Brown, Red and Gold. These mulches offer more aesthetic appeal. Mulch dyed with non-toxic, vegetable based colorant is safe to use and will not hurt plants, pets or children.

Preparation for color mulches

Color mulches do need a little more care in the beginning. They need a curing time of 24-48 hours after spreading to allow the color to completely permeate the mulch and become stable. Don’t let this mulch come in contact with concrete or other porous surfaces until it is cured.

It is a good idea to plan to use colored mulch when rain will not be a threat for a couple of days.

However, after the curing time, the colored mulch is stable and will provide long lasting color throughout the season.

Choose color mulches to enhance or contrast your home’s color and/or to make your landscaping pop. Recent landscape trends suggest mixing two colored mulches for a unique, “confetti” appearance.

Mulch serves practical and aesthetic purposes

Many people choose to use different mulches in their landscape for both curb appeal and organic purposes. For example, traditional or color mulch may be used for plantings, while in high traffic areas you may want to use an Economy Mulch that is chunkier and will break down more slowly. While this mulch is not known for is nutritional value, it will still provide the other benefits.

No matter whether you use a color enhanced mulch or a traditional non colored mulch, be sure to use a good quality mulch that will provide all the benefits it should to your landscape.

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Which Type of Mulch Is Right for Your Landscape?

It’s time to choose some mulch for your landscaping. But which kind do you choose? Bark or wood? Black or Red? Pebbles or volcanic rock? And do you really need landscaping fabric underneath it? It’s not as simple a purchase as it appears, as each type of mulch has its own advantages and disadvantages. But, with a little knowledge, you can pick the right mulch for the job at hand.

Every kind of mulch was developed to perform specific functions in your landscape. Knowing what they are will make choosing the right mulch much simpler.

Let’s break it down:

Organic Wood Mulches: Wood mulches can vary widely, including varieties of mulch made from bark, and mulch made from chipped wood. The advantage of using wood mulch is that it is organic material that will evenly soak up water, keep your landscape plants cooler, and keep the soil moister. The wood mulch will also decompose over time, which will nourish the soil around your plants. This, however, can also be one of the “cons” of using wood mulch. The wood mulch will fade and decompose after just a year or two, making replacement necessary. Some versions of mulch are natural; some are dyed red or black. The color is strictly a cosmetic consideration. The advantage of the dye is that it holds its color for an additional year, making the need to replace every year a little less necessary.

Rubber Mulch: Rubber mulch, usually made from recycled tires or rubber mats, can be a surprisingly attractive option that will last for many years. It does work to divert water to the ground underneath. However, it does heat up in the heat, and doesn’t work quite as well for weed suppression unless it is accompanied by landscape fabric underneath.

River Rock/Landscape Pebbles: Pebbles can also be quite attractive, and their heaviness makes them a permanent choice for your landscape. However, they heat up in the sun like rubber mulch, and landscape fabric may be necessary to keep weeds from peeking through the rocks.

Volcanic Rock: The porous nature of volcanic rock means that they hold on to water somewhat better than rubber or river rock. If you have small children, the rocks can be a little sharp to bare feet or hands, so supervision may be necessary. The rocks are lighter in weight than many other kinds of pebbles and may need occasional raking to keep them in place.

All mulch is not created equal. Match the right mulch to the right project, and you’ll have happier plants and bushes, and a more beautiful landscape.

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What Mulch Does for Your Landscape

Landscaping mulch

Have you ever wondered why we use mulch?  It can seem like an awful lot of work…and wasn’t always the norm.  However, as more people started to put more emphasis on planting flowers and shrubs, commercially prepared mulches became a fixture in most homeowner’s yards, and for good reason.

Mulch can ensure the health of your yard, by performing these important functions:

Mulch cools the earth around your plants.  Protecting the root system for your plants and shrubs is critical.  Mulch protects the ground around your plants from the sun’s harsh rays, lowering the temperature of the soil by a few critical degrees.

Mulch keeps your plants and shrubs alive during the winter. The same insulating properties that mulch has in the summer also help your plants in the winter.  Instead of lowering the temperature, the mulch keeps the ground warmer, shielding them from harsh freezing water.

Mulch nourishes your soil.  If you choose organic mulch made from natural substances such as wood chips or bark, it will slowly and naturally decompose into the soil underneath it.  That decomposition supplies near continuous fertilizer for the plants nourishment.

Mulch can repel bugs.  But only if you choose the right type.  Some mulch comes treated with super fertilizers such as Miracle Gro and bug repellents.  As they decompose, they continue to provide protection for your plants.  However, it is important to note that mulch can also promote bugs, especially termites, if it is not properly applied.  Wood mulch piled up over 3 inches, or puddled next to the house and over top of a naturally wet or swampy area, will attract termites to the foundation of your home.  It is worth raking your mulch and inspecting the soils around your plants around once a month, just to ensure it stays properly aerated.

Mulch prevents weeds.  Especially if you use landscape cloth underneath your mulch, your mulching will completely arrest the growth of weeds, and save you hours of weed pulling on your spare time.

Mulch improves the structure and attractiveness of your landscape.  Mulch prevents erosion by continuous decomposition, which builds up the level of soil around your plants.  It is also hard to argue with the impact mulch can have on the attractiveness of your landscape.  It makes your planting area look bright and neat – and your house look like a home.

Mulch is far more than just a decoration. It can be the one most important thing you can do to have a healthy landscape.

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Do I need to mulch every year and how much mulch should I put down?

Your landscape beds are cleaned out, the lawn is mowed and now it is time for that annual rite of passage here in the Midwest. Mulch time! Time to decorate the landscape beds for a purpose, functionality, and aesthetic appeal.

Some homeowners and landscapers do in fact mulch every year and sometimes twice a year in the spring and fall. It all depends on what your long-term expectations are. If you are looking for the nice visual aspect of fresh color and fresh mulch, then once or twice a year is beneficial.

If you want low maintenance and only want to mulch every couple of years, then it is certainly possible and will typically require spreading your mulch a little deeper when you put it down in the beginning (3”-4”). Our view is that mulch should be put down annually to compensate for the decomposition of the wood and bark fiber and the graying of the color.

When applying annually, a 2”-3” layer of mulch should be a sufficient depth. Mulch that is applied too thick can suffocate your plants and starve your soil for moisture. When you do decide to re-mulch, it may be a good idea to remove some of the older, existing mulch, or at the very least break it up and turn it over before applying the new, fresh layer.

By doing this you are removing the layers that are no longer decomposing and that are caked and packed together thus allowing fresh moisture and nutrients to your plants and into your soil.

Applying mulch around trees can be a great benefit to the trees, especially trees that constantly need to be mown around and weed whacked. Mulch can provide a nice mow free area and makes for a great buffer around the base of the tree.

If you do apply mulch around a tree, do not apply the mulch too thick, especially up around the trunk of the tree where you can create a “mulch volcano”. Trees that are mulched in a volcano style can easily get diseased around the trunk of the tree when too much moisture in the mulch is pressed against the bark of the tree.

It can also cause a problem where not enough moisture actually reaches the roots of the trees thereby allowing the trees to starve for water and the root system to not develop correctly. Remember as with anything in life moderation is key and so it is with mulch. Most of all enjoy your landscape and all of the benefits that mulch provides! Successful mulching!