Mulching your flower beds and garden is a popular lawn care task this time of year. The problem is, most people apply mulch too late in the season, lessening its benefit. To understand the logic behind this theory, the experts at Custom Lawn are breaking down why we mulch in the first place.

Related Read: 5 Easy Tips to Get a Head Start on Your Spring Lawn Care

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Why Mulch Matters for Your Yard

Mulch is not just something to do for the sole purpose of enhancing the look of your yard, although it certainly does that. Mulching is the single most important thing you can do for your garden every year for several reasons …

  • Suppresses weeds.
  • Holds in moisture that would quickly evaporate without it.
  • Regulates soil temperature.
  • Improves the soil’s structure, which leads to better drainage and use of nutrients.

Related Read: Don’t Delay! Spring Weed Control Starts Sooner Than You Think

Why Is March Prime Time for Mulch?

Just as weeding and removing leaves is easier to do before new bulbs and perennials pop up, the same goes for mulching. The soil is still weed-free, herbaceous plants are just beginning to grow, and the soil is starting to warm up a little, which means it’s the perfect window to lay your mulch while avoiding other plants’ lifecycles.

How Much Mulch Do I Need?

When it comes to mulch, more is definitely not better! Applying an overly thick layer of mulch can do more harm than good since it’s likely to encourage fungal disease and possibly even kill your plants. To be sure your yard gets just the right amount of mulch, it’s best to leave this task to the pros.

Generally, the proper amount of mulch ranges from 2-3 inches. Adding mulch yearly, will also help protect the bases of your plants from nematode insects, which can literally wipe out an entire landscape if given free access to your plants.

Related Read: 3 Reasons Professional Lawn Mowing Is Worth Paying For

What’s the Best Kind of Mulch to Use in Kansas City?

In the Kansas City area, the best mulch, by far, is the hardwood variety. Why? Because it’s less attractive to insects, it spreads easily, and stays put in the rain, unlike other popular types of mulch such as pine bark.

Get More from Your Mulch with Custom Lawn & Landscape

There’s more to mulch than just placing the right kind and amount in your yard, which is why many turn to the experts at Custom Lawn & Landscape to get the job done right. In addition to making sure your yard gets the right kind and amount of mulch, we make the most of your mulch by doing the following:

  1. We apply a pre-emergent to your mulch in order to keep weeds at bay and to create a barrier which makes them less likely to grow in the future.
  2. We make sure your mulch is applied correctly to avoid giving insects and pests easy access to your home.

All About Garden Mulches

Mulch’s purpose is pretty basic: It acts as a barrier, keeping sunlight and some air away from the soil surface. Sounds simple enough, but mulch’s smothering effect brings with it both good and bad news. Consider these positive and negative effects of tucking in your soil beneath a blanket of mulch.

Figure out how much mulch you need with our handy calculator.

The Sun’s Effect on Mulch

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Mulch’s purpose is pretty basic: It acts as a barrier, keeping sunlight and some air away from the soil surface. Sounds simple enough, but mulch’s smothering effect brings with it both good news and bad. Consider these positive and negative effects of tucking in your soil beneath a blanket of mulch:

Pro: Without the summer sunrays striking it, soil stays cooler and plant roots don’t stress from the heat.

Con: Slugs, earwigs, cutworms, and other eat-and-run types love cool, moist, dark places. To minimize bugs, use only a thin layer of mulch, keeping it several inches away from plant bases.

Pro: Water in the soil doesn’t thaw on sunny winter days then refreeze at night. That’s good news. The melting-and-freezing cycle makes water shrink and expand, possibly popping shallow-rooted plants right out of the ground — a phenomenon called heaving. Heaving spells the end for plants.

Before you mulch, test your soil; here’s how.

Water, Temperature and Mulch

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Pro: The ground warms more slowly in the spring, so perennials aren’t fooled into breaking dormancy too early. You want the ground to stay cold until it really is spring.

Con: The drawback is that perennials might bloom late or soil might not be ready for spring planting. If so, rake back mulch until the soil warms up. Or, if you don’t mulch over winter, wait until plants green up before mulching.

Pro: Water evaporates more slowly from cool soil protected from the wind. If you mulch, you don’t have to water as much, which saves time, money, and a precious resource.

Con: However, heavy rains can make the ground soggy and puddly for days. If beds become bogs, rake off mulch and let soil dry.

Pro: Raindrops don’t hit the soil surface, so soil is less likely to wash away or splash onto plants. This keeps plants cleaner and free of some soil-dwelling diseases.

Con: Without sunlight, some seeds can’t germinate, and sprouts might not have the oomph to push through the mulch. This prevents weeds, but it thwarts some good seeds, too. Mulch after seedlings are up and have some girth and vigor.

Popular Questions:

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Everyone asks how much mulch to apply and when to apply it. There are no right answers. It depends on several factors, including your soil, amount of rainfall, type of mulch, and how weedy the ground is.

Here are some guidelines:

  • For most mulches and soils, start with a layer 3-4 inches deep. Use newspaper as a decomposable barrier to keep weeds at bay.
  • If the soil is dry, water it before applying mulch to pull weeds easier.
  • Apply mulch just about anytime, remembering that if you mulch early in the spring, the ground might be slow to warm. If you mulch only in the winter to prevent heaving, wait until the ground freezes. Mulch could delay freezing of the ground, causing roots to go dormant later than normal and possibly damaging them.

Know what a weed looks like with our ID guide.

Which Mulch is Best?

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Sort through the mulch options and choose the right security blanket for your flowerbeds.

Dark-color mulches will absorb and retain more heat from the sun than light-color ones. This is an advantage in cooler regions but a disadvantage in hotter climates.

Light-color mulches (particularly decorative landscaping types, such as white stones) reflect light and heat and can dangerously overheat surrounding plants.

Some mulches won’t stay put. Gravel and stones creep onto lawns (and make tempting throwables for kids). Cocoa hulls blow away. Small bark chips can wash downstream in a heavy rain. In general, mulches with heavy or large pieces are more likely to stay put. Those that form a mat, such as leaves and pine needles, are usually stable, too.

Organic mulches, such as grass clippings, leaves, manure, and compost, improve the soil. Stones and plastic don’t. Black plastic, unless it’s porous or perforated, grows a smelly, slimy coating. It also turns brittle and breaks into little pieces that escape the garden. Cheap landscape fabric is not worth it — weeds and roots will tangle in it.

Types of Mulch

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Bark Choose from shredded, chipped, chunks, or nuggets. Usually pine, cypress, or hardwood. Attractive and long-lasting, especially the large nuggets, but might look too chunky around dainty flowers.

Cocoa Hulls Hulls add nutrients. Fresh hulls carry chocolaty aroma. Might compact and mold.

Compost Turn under at end of season to improve soil. Texture is too fine to suppress aggressive weeds.

Grass Clippings Turn under at end of season. Can heat up or mold if too thick. Use 1-2 inches if fresh, 2-4 inches if dry.

Hay Loose layer can be about 6 inches deep, will settle down. Might contain weed seed.

Landscape Fabric Use at base of flowering shrubs. Cover with thin layer of attractive mulch. Get good-quality fabric, or weeds and roots will tangle in it. Best type is bonded, not woven.

Leaf Mold Leaves composted two to three years. Turn under at end of season to improve soil.

Leaves (fresh) Shred before using if you want them to break down faster.

Newspaper Use layer 5-10 sheets thick. Disguise with thin layer of attractive mulch.

Manure Turn under at end of season. Adds nutrients. Store-bought manure looks and smells less like the real thing.

Mushroom Compost used manure left after mushroom harvest. Can turn over at end of season to improve soil. Might contain pesticide residues. Texture is too fine to suppress aggressive weeds.

Peat Moss Use 1-2 inch layer near acid-loving plants. Soak in warm water before using. Never let it dry out completely or it will shed water. Use Canadian peat; Louisiana peat might be dangerously acidic.

Pine Needles Regional product. Last two to four seasons. Pine trees provide ready supply.

Plastic Use at base of flowering shrubs. Get a kind that lets water pass through. Top with more attractive mulch.

Sawdust Breaks down quickly. Depletes soil nitrogen, so sprinkle soil with blood meal or other nitrogen source.

Straw Loose layer about 6 inches deep, will settle down. Lasts one to two seasons. May deplete soil nitrogen.

Wood Chips Byproduct of timber industry. Quality varies. Recycled woods from pallets and construction might contain toxins that kill plants and contaminate soil. Don’t use chips if they smell sour; this indicates the presence of harmful acids. Rid fresh chips of acids by letting them decompose in a compost pile or pit before using.

Learn more about which mulch might be right for your garden.

Best Time to Mulch in Houston – When to Mulch: Spring vs. Fall

When is the best time to lay mulch? How often should you mulch? We’ll answer these two important questions today. There are some details and tips you simply must know. And our mission is to deliver those.

Most of us notice mulch for its beautification factor. It really does make the landscaping look nice and tidy. But there’s more to mulch than meets the eye.

Why Mulch?

Beyond the fact that it looks good, mulch has a very practical purpose. Mulch helps reduce weeds up to 85%. It conserves water and lends itself to erosion control. And it assists with adding nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. It works to maintain soil temperature for optimal plant growth. Mulch can even make some plants grow faster. This is why it’s great to know when to mulch! There are so many benefits.

When Is the Best Time to Mulch?

The main question is: Should I mulch in spring or fall? The best time is when the weather becomes consistently warm. The mulch you lay will slow down the soil’s warming. Add it too early, and you’ll stunt your plants’ growth.

Too late, and your plants and lawn won’t receive maximum benefit. They won’t absorb many nutrients that way.

Consider these questions as you think about rising temperatures, the warm spring season, and the best time to mulch in Houston:

Do You Have the Best Mulch for Texas?

Some people mulch for appearance. But you may be better off using bark or stone in that case. Most apply mulch for a reason beyond aesthetics. Think about function and climate over style. Do you need to control weeds? Do you need to conserve water for your plants?

Have You Stripped Away Your Existing Mulch?

Mulch should remain around 3 inches deep. Don’t just pour mulch on top of older mulch. Plants need room to breathe and grow. Don’t overload your yard with too much. Too much of a good thing can wreck your plans.

Have the Perennials of Your Lawn Emerged Yet?

Best time to mulch flower beds? Keep this in mind. Be sure your perennials have popped up already. Don’t bury them! They won’t stand a chance then.

Have You Weeded the Area?

You may be mulching to help with weeds. You certainly want to remove all weeds from the area before you mulch. No one wants to see these pesky weeds alive and well after all the work of introducing new mulch. But they will continue to thrive if you don’t handle them upfront.

Have You Experienced Rain in the Last Several Days?

Mulch helps to lock in moisture. If you add it without water, you’re setting yourself up for a dry, unhealthy situation. The best time to apply mulch is after rain. Rain is good in this case. If rain isn’t in the forecast, water the area (with a hose or sprinkler) before laying the mulch.

You’ve got enough on your plate. Use Zodega TIS’s commercial lawn care services and trust us with what you need and when you need it. We’re the professionals. Our team understands the ins and outs of Houston lawn care.

When to Put Down Mulch in Spring

When to put down mulch in the season of spring? For Houston, you’re usually looking at either late April or early May. In spring, you’ll often notice those annoying weeds on your lawn first. Blocking sunlight can be effective in combating them.

Tip: Be patient. You want to lock in warm temps and moisture with your mulch. Cold moisture can delay your plants growth. Wait for that mid to late springtime.

When to Put Down Mulch in the Fall

Should I mulch my lawn in the fall? You can if you’re super busy in the spring and never get around to the chore. In Texas, we’re not so much worried with super cold winters. We don’t see foot after foot of snow. Seasonal mulching (in the fall) helps with insulation. Especially if your plants are young ones. The mulch will essentially trap heat for the winter. Thanksgiving is a good time to do this if it suits your landscaping plan better.

But if you want the fresh, neat appeal, then spring is the best time of year to lay mulch. A fall mulch will be faded by April of the following year. Zodega TIS’s residential lawn services in Houston is here for you. We’ll work with you to be sure your green space is obtaining all the nutrients and care it needs.

How Often Should You Mulch Your Lawn?

Re-mulching isn’t a bad idea if you do it correctly. But be sure you follow our tips above. You only want about 3 inches of mulch. Discard older mulch. Give your plants room to thrive. We recommend laying mulch every year, ideally in the spring. The fresh layer will protect your plants from insects and pests while also ensuring optimal growth.

Don’t wait. Spring is upon us. Contact Zodega TIS for a quote today!

Finish your garden with decorative bark

Decorative bark can be used all around your garden and has a multiple benefits, here you can find out, where you can use it, how to use it and what are the benefits of using it are.

Where to use decorative bark

Decorative bark is mostly used to cover bare soil areas in flower beds and borders, this provides a clean visual background, that will make your plants and flowers shine through, finishing off your garden in style.

It is also great to use in a childrens’ play area, not only does it provide a softer landing it protects the garden from wear and tear. It can also easily be scooped up and removed when the play area is no longer needed and transferred to the flower beds or you can use it to create a path!

How to use decorative bark

The best time to apply decorative bark such as Levington Water Saving Decorative Bark is when the soil is thoroughly moist. Most often this is in late winter or early spring, but bark can be applied at any time of year so long as the soil is moist.

A minimum layer should be 5cm (2in) thick, so that it reduces unnecessary evaporation from the soil surface.

You’ll need a pair of scissors to open the top of the bag, once opened you can either tip the bag up and pour on to the designated area, or use your hands a trowel to scatter (remember to wear suitable gardening gloves if spreading by hand). To make sure the bark is even and to move it under plants and shrubs, use the flat edge of a soil rake.

The benefits

Applying a thick layer of decorative bark to your soil surfaces (called a mulch) does much more than just make your garden look attractive. It helps to retain soil moisture, suppresses weed growth and will gradually improve the structure of your soil. The bark will also help insulate the soil and protect your plant roots from cold, freezing weather in winter and hot, dry conditions in summer.

Decorative bark comes in various colours, sizes and types of bark, so you can add colour to plainer areas where you may have shrubs growing or to a childrens’ play area.

Decorative bark ideas for use

  1. Apply as a fantastic contrast to other materials used in your garden, bringing back the feel of nature in modern designs.
  2. A Colourful contrasting path, also safer than many hard surfaces as it doesn’t get slippery in the winter.
  3. A natural pathway where gravel, slabs or other materials just wouldn’t fit in.
  4. Also great for our feathered friends giving a safe and natural flooring for them to scratch about in.

5 Things to do Before you Bark dust.

Think of bark dust as the icing on the cake. After everything else in your yard is finished, the bark goes down to suppress weeds and beautify the landscape. Here’s a simple 5 point checklist to help you prepare your yard for bark or mulch.

  • WEED, EDGE, TRIM – Pull the weeds, edge the lawn, trim the hedges and trees.
  • REMOVE DEBRIS – Any debris in the beds to be bark dusted should be removed. Tree branches, leaves, pull up plants you want removed. The smoother the surface, the further your bark will go.
  • APPLY WEED BARRIER OF CHOICE – Whether you want to use a chemical weed suppressant or go all natural, there are various ways to suppress weeds. With chemicals, you should keep in mind that it will kill many of the good bacteria in the ground that is beneficial for a healthy and strong soil. We recommend landscaping fabric that is biodegradable (like this one) but there are a variety on the market. Read our blog about it for more info.
  • AMEND SOIL IF NECESSARY – In the Willamette and Tualatin Valleys we have a lot of clay in our soil. Clay is actually full of vital nutrients for plants, but they cannot access it in clay form. For a healthy garden and yard, it’s a great idea to add an amendment that will, over time, break down into the soil and clay to help release those nutrients. This is ideal if you are adding new plants to your yard or are working on a vegetable garden. Our 5-way Brahma soil can be tilled in, put your raised beds, or added in a 2″ layer to the ground before putting down the bark. Barkdust itself, will also add humus if consistently applied at a 2″ depth every year or two.
  • PLANT LARGE PLANTS – such as new hedges, bushes, and young trees. Save the smaller perennials and annuals for after the bark is down. This is especially true if you are having us blow in the bark as small plants can be damaged during the blowing process. We typically will blow a small pile beside the sensitive areas for you to hand spread later. Plants can be planted directly into bark.

Now you’re ready to lay your bark! Take a look at our products and give us a call when you’re ready. 503-620-5555

Putting down bark in garden

On regular occasions New Builds and Builders tend to leave alot of building rubble and crud in the grounds surrounding the newly built house.So the 1st thing to do is check the actual quality of the ground and soil below your feet.Dig down a good 12-15 inches to see what is really under your feet.No point in planting lots of lovely trees,shrubs and plants if you have only have 1 inch of topsoil on the surface but 11 inches of builders rubble and crud below.
Also if a builder mixes up all the subsoil with the topsoil he originally dug out and throws it back in,then all he has done is ruin the ground and new plants and shrubs will not take in subsoil.
Soil quality and soil structure is vital to how successfull a new garden establishes and grows.You need a good 8-10 inches of propper topsoil to create and plant new gardens.You also need to take into account if you need any manure and grit added in,depending on ground conditions and plant types you are planting.
If you take the time to plan out a garden space and plant ground cover plants and shrubs,then theres no need for Mypex,as Mypex can actually be bad and surpress plant growth and plant spread.Mypex will also prevent the spread of tuborus plants,flowers and bulbs and rhizome type plants and flowers.
Fill the space with suitable trees,shrubs and ground cover plants and you wont have any problems with weeds.Take into acount whether the area is shaded or in sunlight and also how dry or wet the soil structure is in the area.Also whether the area faces North,South,East or West with regards to weather patterns and prevailing winds.
Plan and plant the area accordingly with regards to the seasons and you will be rewarded with a fantastic garden of colour and beauty all year round.
Thats what we did with our new build.

Mulch Ado About Weeds: Management Strategies For Hops

Hop production acreage is increasing in Ontario and with expanding production come questions on weed management. Weed management is important around the base of the hop bine to decrease competition for nutrients and moisture. Excessive weed growth can also restrict airflow through the hop yard resulting in higher incidences of disease while also creating a refuge for insect pests.

Currently there are no organic or conventional herbicides registered for use on hops in Canada. A few non-chemical weed control options have been evaluated to better understand their effects on hops including yield and quality of the cones. Multi-year studies have evaluated mulches (plastic and straw), grass cover, and cultivation for on-row weed control options in hop yards. The most effective treatment was plastic mulch applied to the row at the beginning of the season. Openings cut in the plastic over the hop crown permitted growth of the bines through the plastic. This treatment provided almost 100 % control of weeds on the row and the mulch could be replaced in following seasons if damage occurred to the plastic. No differences in yield or alpha acid levels were noted compared to control plots.

Straw mulch, applied at a rate of 10 tonnes/ha across the rows and alleyways, was found to suppress weeds in years one and two of an experiment, however weed cover started to increase in year three. Longer term studies were suggested to properly evaluate straw mulch. No decrease in hop yield was found compared to control plots, however, an increase in alpha acid concentration on plants treated with straw mulch was noted. This may have been due to a change in environmental conditions around the plants (cooler soil temperatures in spring followed by warmer soil temperatures later in the growing season or an increase in light reflectivity from the mulch during the growing season) but these theories were not formally evaluated in the experiments.

A grass cover crop mixture (ryegrass, meadowgrass, creeping fescue, chewings fescue and bentgrass) was effective in suppressing broadleaf weed populations once established on the row. Grass was mown once a month with clippings returned. Competition from the grass sward was found to decrease hop yields, however alpha acid concentrations were similar to control plots.

Cultivation was found to be an effective control for weed cover on the row however it was considered the least dependable treatment during times of high moisture (e.g. spring). No difference in yields or alpha acid levels was found compared to control plots.

Cultural methods for weed management appear to be effective in reducing weed populations in hop yards, although longer term studies may be required to validate treatments. However, it appears that certain cultural methods can be used to obtain acceptable yields and, in some cases, higher alpha acid levels compared to conventional herbicide treatments.

9 Types of Mulch to Keep Your Landscape Lush

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Mulch may not be a miracle cure for all that ails your garden, but according to professional gardeners and arborists, it certainly comes close! A wide variety of materials fall under the heading of mulch, but they all share one basic purpose: improving soil conditions. Among its long list of benefits, mulch insulates the soil from temperature extremes, locks in moisture, keeps weeds at bay, prevents soil compaction, and protects sensitive plantings from damage by weed whackers and lawn mowers. Plus, virtually all types of mulch can give planting beds an attractive, manicured, and well-maintained appearance.

Broadly speaking, homeowners select from two basic types of mulch: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches—hardwood and softwood chips, bark, evergreen needles, leaves, grass clippings, compost mixes, newspaper and cardboard, and a variety of other plant byproducts—consist of materials that decompose over time. Work any of these into the soil and they can improve soil fertility, aeration, structure, and drainage as they decompose. 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.

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.

Homeowners have access to a wide range of mulch types from each category.

When you’ve decided you’re ready to start reaping the many benefits of mulch, you’re not limited to just the standard by-the-bag chips from your local home improvement center—you’ve got options! Select one that best suits your landscaping project based on its local availability, cost, appearance, quality, and durability. Here are nine types of mulch that should be on your radar and when to use each.

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Wood Chips, Nuggets, or Bark

Both hardwood and softwood bark, chips, and nuggets—byproducts of the lumber and paper industries—are typically aged and dried, and sometimes even dyed red or black, then sold in bags. Hardwood works best around trees, shrubs, and in perennial beds, while softwood (typically made from pine) should be reserved for use around large trees and shrubs. Pine tends to be slightly more acidic and therefore takes longer to decompose than other organic mulches.

Check with your local municipality before you head to the home improvement center; many offer freshly ground tree mulch to homeowners at no charge. This fresh material is neither dried or aged, so use it only for walkways, as it leaches large amounts of nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes.

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Straw

Clean wheat, barley, or oat straw is ideal for lightly mulching newly seeded lawns. The straw mulch keeps the grass seed from washing away, deters feeding birds and rodents, and, until it decomposes, conserves the moisture the seeds need for good germination. When you’re shopping for mulch, don’t confuse straw with hay. You should avoid the latter, which contains seeds that could sprout up as weeds in your garden.

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Grass Clippings or Shredded Leaves

No need to shop around—you can make your own organic mulch using nothing more than grass clippings or shredded leaves. Leaf mulch is ideal for use in garden beds and around trees and shrubs, while grass clippings may be spread in thin layers across vegetable and perennial beds and then turned into the soil at the end of the growing season. Be careful not to apply in thick layers, or else the material will mat. Also, don’t save the clippings from lawns that have been treated with herbicides or insecticides.

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Newspaper or Cardboard

Shredded black-and-white newspaper or undyed natural cardboard can be used as an effective weed suppressant. Apply two to three layers at a time, then cover with another heavier organic material, such as leaves or grass clippings, to hold the lightweight mulch in place. Take care not to mix in color newspaper pages or coated cardboard; these do not decompose readily and may even expose your garden to toxic dyes.

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Cocoa Chips

Popular for their rich color and pleasant scent, cocoa bean hulls are lightweight, easy to handle, and appropriate for all planting areas. Don’t apply more than one inch or water excessively, because cocoa chips already decompose quickly—and since they’re a pricier option, you won’t want to have to do more than an annual application. If you have pets or wildlife, you should avoid cocoa mulch, because chocolate and its byproducts can be fatal to animals if consumed.

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Composted Animal Manure

Nothing beats well-composted, nutrient-rich animal manure when it comes to mulch for vegetables. Two words of caution, however, before you add this type of mulch to your garden bed: Fresh manure burns plant roots, and dog, cat, and pig manure can harbor disease-causing organisms—avoid all of the above!

Photo: istockphoto.com

INORGANIC MULCH: Rock or Crusher Dust

Lava rock, crushed gravel or crusher dust, marble chips, and pea gravel will not break down, making them a popular option for walks and pathways, thanks to their one-time investment of cost and labor. Avoid using stones around trees, shrubs, and other plants, however, because they won’t effectively retain moisture and can cause heat stress on plants through reflection as well as ground heating, which can burn roots.

Photo: istockphoto.com

INORGANIC MULCH: Landscape Plastic or Fabric

Plastic polyethylene film is impermeable, which means that water and other nutrients cannot pass through. While this quality makes it ideal as a short-term weed killer, plastic is not suitable for long-term use. If you employ it to warm the soil around fruit and vegetable plants, you’ll have to install an irrigation system under the plastic or water your plants by hand to make sure they get adequate moisture. Remove the plastic at the end of the growing season to keep it from deteriorating in the sunlight, and then replace it the following year.

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.

Photo: istockphoto.com

INORGANIC MULCH: Rubber

Rubber mulch—manufactured from recycled, pulverized tires—is inexpensive and highly durable, which makes it perfect for high-traffic areas, such as playgrounds. Leave it out of your home landscaping projects, though; rubber mulch does not decompose, and some studies indicate that toxins found in the rubber can actually leach into the soil.

Beginner mulchers, beware: There can be too much of a good thing.

Over-mulching, especially erecting “mulch volcanoes” around the bases of trees and shrubs, can lead to problems with insect and rodent infestation. Plus, mulch that is too deep can cause a buildup of excess moisture in the root zone, which can stress the plant and lead to root rot. Most professionals recommend limiting your layer of mulch to a depth of between two and four inches.

Mulch Must-Knows

While mulching may seem like a basic part of gardening, there is so much to learn about the different types of garden mulch and what benefits each type provides. We’ll show you how to compare and contrast the different types of mulch and what situations to use them in.

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Mulch Benefits

There are a number of advantages to adding mulch in your garden. In the summer, mulch helps the soil hold moisture so you don’t have to water your garden as often. In the hot sun, soil also tends to dry out faster and harden. Mulch will help with this by protecting the soil from direct sunlight.

Mulch also prevents weeds. Adding mulch to your planting bed will block light from openings in the soil, therefore inhibiting weed germination. By adding a thick layer of mulch, you’ll ensure that the weeds never see the light of day!

Editor’s Tip: While a concentrated layer of mulch is ideal, don’t overdo it. 2–4 inches is the ideal depth for a mulch layer.

Over time, garden mulch types made from organic materials break down and increase your soil’s structure and fertility. This is especially true with compost used as a mulch, as the nutrients will promote soil organisms and aid in plant growth.

Related: Mulch Calculator

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Types of Garden Mulch

Shredded Bark

Shredded bark is one of the most common and least expensive types of mulch. It comes from a variety of sources, including cedar trees. Shredded bark is one of the best mulch types to use on slopes and it breaks down relatively slowly. Some shredded-bark products are byproducts from other industries; they’re considered environmentally friendly. Check the mulch packaging for more information.

Editor’s Tip: Shredded bark can take up some nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes. If you have poor soil, adding some organic fertilizer to the soil can help keep your plants healthy.

Buy it: NuLife Cedar Bark Shredded Mulch, $20, Walmart

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Straw

Straw mulch has a beautiful golden color that looks great in the garden. It’s also a bit slower to break down than leaves or grass clippings. Some gardeners like smaller, more shredded straw pieces while others prefer larger straws. Straw is classically used in more utilitarian gardens, such as vegetable gardens, and under strawberry plants. Straw does a great job of keeping mud out of your edibles.

Editor’s Tip: Make sure the straw is free of weed seeds, otherwise it can cause more weeds than it prevents. (Oat straw is often particularly weedy.)

Buy it: EZ Straw Seeding Mulch, $10, Walmart

Compost

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Compost looks like soil, except it’s darker, so it really sets off plants well. This mulch material breaks down quickly but adds to your soil structure the fastest. Plus, it’s inexpensive; you can create your own rich compost for free. Many municipalities give away compost as well.

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Pine or Cedar Bark Chips

These bark nuggets are slower to break down than shredded bark, but they don’t stay in place as well. They’re not the best type of mulch for slopes or other areas where they may be washed away by heavy rain; the chips will tend to float and take off like boats. The nuggets are available in a variety of sizes; the bigger the nugget, the longer it lasts.

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Stones and River Rock

Because they’re inorganic materials, stone and river rock don’t break down in the landscape, so they don’t need to be reapplied every year. However, it also means they don’t improve your soil over time. Take caution when using stone as a mulch—stones tend to get really hot. Stones are often used as mulch in cactus and rock gardens. If you decide to use rocks and stones as a mulch, cover your soil first with sheer landscaping fabric. This will prevent weeds from growing.

  • By BH&G Garden Editors

Digging Into Mulches: Types of Landscape Mulch for Your Garden

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The word “mulch” brings lots of thoughts to a gardener’s mind. Wheelbarrows, shovels, dust-covered arms, backaches, and calluses are just a few of the things the word conjures in my mind. Few people think about a ripe, red tomato, a perfect rose blossom, or a gorgeous hydrangea when they think about mulch. But, truth be told, without mulch, all of those beautiful things are far harder to come by. Despite its practical purpose and humble appearance — not to mention how much work it is to spread — mulch is absolutely essential to a healthy, productive garden. Let’s get digging into mulches and learn the whys and hows of this important gardening task.

What is mulch anyway?

Mulch is any material placed on top of the soil to suppress weeds, conserve soil moisture, add organic matter, and provide an attractive backdrop for plantings. Mulch can also reduce erosion, improve the soil’s structure and fertility as it breaks down, and stabilize soil temperature fluctuations. As you can see, there are so many good reasons to make mulch a part of your garden.

Digging into mulches

But, not all mulches are created equal. While any material placed on top of the soil is technically considered a mulch, not all mulching products provide the same benefits. Your choice of mulching materials impacts the garden in many ways, and different garden areas call for digging into mulches of different kinds.

Garden areas can be broken down into three types:
• Intensively grown flower and vegetable beds
• Less-intensively planted areas, like tree and shrub beds
• Walkways and paths

The best mulching products vary according to which garden area you’re mulching. For example, rocks look great on walkways, but are a poor choice for planting beds.

Each of these three areas calls for a different mulching material.

• In intensively grown flower and vegetable beds, you’re going to want a mulch that decomposes quickly to add nutrients and organic matter to the areas where these fast-growing annuals, vegetables, and perennials are growing. This type of mulch typically has finer-sized particles and is broken down by soil microbes very rapidly.

• In less-intensively planted tree and shrub beds, stick with a mulch that is slower to break down. These products last longer, are less expensive, and have a larger particle size.

• For walkways and paths, choose a mulch that’s very long lived. It may even be something that won’t break down at all, such as rocks or gravel. Pathways need to be mulched less frequently than areas where plants are growing, so you’ll want the mulch to last for as long as possible.

Digging into mulches also means considering the preferences of your plants when deciding which type of mulch to use in your garden. For example, blueberries, azaleas, evergreens, and other acid-loving plants love to be mulched with pine needles that, over time, breakdown and help acidify the soil. Most other vegetable and flower garden plants, however, prefer a soil pH around 6.5, so mulches with a more neutral pH are best for areas where these plants are growing.

Before deciding which type of mulch to use, think carefully about what kind of plants will be growing there.

Types of landscape mulch

To help you decide which mulch is best for which garden area, here are details on a few popular mulching products.

Compost
Finished compost is a useful mulch for many different reasons. It’s affordable (or free, if you make your own!) and quick to break down, making it a great choice for intensively planted flower and veggie beds. Compost adds organic matter back to the soil faster than some other mulching products. It also spreads easily since its fine particles sift down around the plants.

Straw
Straw is an excellent mulch, especially in the vegetable garden. When digging into mulches that are loose, like straw, you’ll find that they’re also better at deterring pests that lay eggs down close to the soil, such as flea beetles, squash vine borers, and root maggots. Straw is inexpensive, easy to apply, and takes a season or more to fully break down. In my own vegetable garden, I use straw to mulch the walkways and larger vegetable plants like tomatoes and peppers. It also works well beneath cucumber and melon vines where it helps keep the developing fruits off the soil.

Straw makes an excellent mulch for garden paths and under tall plants like tomatoes and peppers.

Shredded Bark or Hardwood
Shredded bark or hardwood mulches are great around woody plant material like trees and shrubs. Many landscape suppliers have single-, double-, and even triple-shredded wood products, depending on how quickly you’d like it to break down. While single-shredded lasts longer, it’s coarser in appearance than the finely graded triple-shredded mulches. Avoid dyed bark mulches, if possible, as well as cheap “gas station” mulch that could be made from construction debris and might contain contaminants.

Shredded hardwood or bark mulch can come in bags or be purchased in bulk quantities.

Pine Straw
A popular mulch in the Southern U.S., pine straw is made from naturally shed pine needles from several long-needled pine species. Because the needles interlock and stay in place, pine straw is an excellent mulching choice for hillsides and other erosion-prone sites, as well as for flat ground. As the needles are fairly acidic, when the pine straw decomposes it acidifies the soil slightly, making this an excellent mulch for acid-loving plants like blueberries, rhododendrons, camellias, ferns, magnolias, and evergreens.

Leaf Mold or Leaf Compost
This type of compost is comprised of a single ingredient: leaves. It can be made commercially from municipally collected leaves or at home from leaves collected on your own property each autumn. Leaf compost is friable, loose-textured, and lacks weed seeds. It breaks down quickly to release organic matter and is a great choice for flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Grass Clippings
When digging into mulches and discussing different kinds, one can’t forget about the freebies! Grass clippings collected from organic lawns are an excellent (and free!) mulch, just don’t use clippings from a lawn that was treated with broadleaf weed killers or you could harm your plants. Grass clippings decompose very rapidly, but because of their high nitrogen content and fresh state, they can burn young plants if over applied. Two inches of fresh grass clippings added every week or two are plenty. They are a great mulch when applied between crop rows in the vegetable garden.

Grass clippings make an excellent mulch when applied between vegetable rows. Just don’t apply too thickly.

Mushroom Compost
Mushroom compost (also called mushroom manure or mushroom soil) is a popular mulch in some parts of the country. Essentially, it’s the by-product of the mushroom farming industry. Mushroom compost starts as a combination of decomposed organic materials like manures, straw, peat moss, and shredded corncobs. Though it’s originally used to grow mushrooms, the spent product remains high in organic matter and some plant nutrients. It’s inexpensive and readily available, and can be used on flower and vegetable beds. However, mushroom compost is not a good choice for shrub beds, especially those housing salt-sensitive evergreens. Mushroom compost is fairly high in soluble salts and, while mixing it into the soil does dilute them, applying a heavy mulching of mushroom compost can cause salt burn on certain evergreens.

There are, of course, other types of landscape mulch, but these are among the most popular.

There are many regional mulches as well, including seashells in coastal areas and pecan shells in the south.

How to mulch garden beds

After you’ve selected the best mulch for a particular garden area, it’s time to literally get digging into mulches and learn how to spread them. Regardless of what types of landscape mulch you select, proper application plays a key role in ensuring the health of your garden plants.

Here are some excellent mulching tips to keep in mind:

• Be careful not to smother plants under too much mulch. Apply two inches of compost or other fine mulches. For loose mulches like straw or pine straw, keep it under four inches. For coarse-textured mulches, like shredded hardwood or bark mulch, three to four inches is perfect.

• Mulch should never contact the stems or trunks of plants. Doing so makes the plant more susceptible to disease and insect damage. Never pile mulch against the stems and bark of shrubs and trees. A good rule of thumb is to keep any mulch at least three to four inches away from the base of the plant.

Don’t just toss mulch into garden beds. Pay careful attention to how you’re applying it for the best results.

• The timing of mulch applications matters as well. Don’t apply mulch too early in the spring, while the ground is still saturated, or the soil may stay waterlogged for a long time. Alternatively, don’t mulch when the soil is too dry. Wait until a day or two after a good soaking rain in mid-spring to apply your mulch.

• Apply mulch before weeds become problematic. Throwing mulch over existing weeds won’t necessarily smother them, and you may find them popping up through the mulch a few days later. Weed beds thoroughly before laying down mulch.

As you can see, digging into mulches means choosing the right product for each area and applying it properly. Though mulching isn’t a glamorous job, it is a very important one. With a good layer of mulch in place, summer maintenance chores, such as weeding and watering, are greatly reduced and your garden beds look fresh and lovely.

Tell us about your favorite mulching product in the comment section below.

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