If you want to spruce up your landscape and improve the environment surrounding your plants, trees, and shrubs, mulch is a simple and efficient solution. At its simplest, mulch is a material that covers the soil for a variety of reasons, usually controlling weeds. Mulch, known as “the gardener’s friend,” offers ten great benefits:
1. Mulch suppresses weeds. By adding a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch, you can naturally prevent weeds from sprouting and taking over your landscape.
2. Mulch helps conserve moisture in the soil which leads to less time watering.
3. Mulch helps you moderate the temperature of your soil - keeping your soil warmer on cold nights and cooler on hot days in the winter.
4. Mulch protects plants from the cycle of freezing and thawing (which can heave them out of the ground).
5. Mulch slows down runoff and erosion, especially on slopes.
6. Mulch helps to break down and feed the soil. Wood mulches and mulches made from other organic materials are especially good at this.
7. Mulch can help keep plants off the ground, especially tomatoes and melons, to avoid plant disease.
8. Mulch will help keep your plants clean, preventing rain from splashing soil that could carry disease onto plants.
9. Mulch Adds curb appeal. Colored mulches do an excellent job of complementing the hues of both your home and flower gardens.
10. Mulch instantly improves your landscaping by providing a beautiful, finished appearance.
How to Choose the Right Mulch
Mulches are made of many different materials—there are wood mulches, rock mulches, and synthetic mulches. To get the full benefits of mulch and to improve your soil, make sure you select high-quality wood mulch from natural recovered forest materials, not ground-up pallets or construction debris. Ideally, your mulch should be dense enough to block weed growth and light enough to allow water and air through to the soil.
When purchasing mulch, there are many factors to consider: cost, availability, ease of application, and what it looks like in the garden.
Here is an overview of the types of mulch available:
Organic mulches. This includes hardwood and softwood chips, bark, evergreen needles, leaves, grass clipping, compost mixes, and a variety of other plant byproducts—consist of materials that decompose over time. Because organic mulches decompose, they must be replenished on a regular basis, but most landscape professionals prefer organic mulches because of the many benefits they bring to the soil (improving soil fertility, aeration, structure, and drainage as they decompose).
Inorganic mulches, on the other hand, include various types of materials that do not decompose and therefore do not need to be replenished very often, if ever. These options include rock, stone, lava rock, crusher dust, pulverized rubber, landscape fabrics, and other man-made materials. Inorganic mulches are ideal for decorative use and controlling weeds. Because rocks and stones absorb and reflect heat, they have the advantage of warming the soil for early spring planting of fruits and vegetables but can be detrimental to plants during periods of hot, dry weather.
Plastic mulch comes in many colors and each serves a different purpose. For example, a black plastic mulch will warm the soil more quickly in the spring and hold the warmth overnight. Red mulch increases fruit yield in tomatoes, while blue mulch does the same for potatoes. Silver or white mulch reflects light and heat.
Landscape fabric is a better choice for long-term use, as it suppresses weeds but also allows air and water to pass through; however, it is a more expensive material. Landscape fabric is best used with a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips, on top.
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