Mulch: Which is Best for Your Yard?
Not only does mulch add a finishing touch to planting beds, it also helps the soil hold moisture so you don’t have to water as often, and helps keep weeds from growing. Read on to find out which mulch type is best for you, as well as tips on the best way to buy it.
Shredded Hardwood Bark
One of the most common mulch choices, shredded hardwood bark works well for flower beds and around trees and shrubs. It adds nutrient rich organic matter to the soil as it decomposes, and typically lasts from one to three years. Be sure to look for double or triple ground mulch, although experienced gardeners prefer triple ground. After spreading organic mulches, water thoroughly to help the mulch bind together. To help prevent weeds, try a pre-emergent weed preventer on top of the mulch to prevent weed seeds from germinating.
Buy Mulch in Bulk
When purchasing mulch for your yard, buying bulk is the way to go when you have multiple beds to cover. To figure out how much mulch you need, either ask your local mulch company to help or find a mulch calculator online. You’ll need to know the size of your planting areas.
To find out what kinds of mulch a local supplier carries, visit them and ask what is in the mulch they offer. Dyed shredded wood mulches are often made from ground wood pallets instead of bark, which is better.
Inexpensive and readily available, pine straw is the mulch of choice in the South. It lasts one to two years and deters slugs. Azaleas, camellia and rhododendron are a natural pairing with pine straw since they often grow in the shade of tall pine trees.
A permanent mulch that doesn’t break down, landscape glass is a type of bright and colorful recycled glass. The glass is tumbled to remove sharp edges, but may be a threat to soft-bodied bugs or tiny animals. Install glass mulch over high quality, commercial grade landscape fabric to prevent it from sinking into the soil.
There are many benefits to using shredded leaves as a mulch alternative for informal planting beds, vegetable gardens or shade gardens. First, as it decomposes, it’s a great source for adding organic matter to soil. Second, it is readily available. And third, it is FREE! Just be aware that it does attract slugs, so exercise caution when applying shredded leaves around slug favorites like leaf lettuce or hosta. You can expect leaves to last one to two growing seasons. Before using them as mulch, always shred leaves with a mower or leaf vacuum.
Typically used in vegetable gardens or strawberry patches, straw is a more utilitarian mulch — it’s not the prettiest. It is simply made from the stalks of grain plants. When buying straw, ask your local supplier if their straw is clean (no grain heads) and weed free. You can also prevent weed seed issues by spreading three layers of damp newspaper under the straw or letting straw bales sit for a few weeks so the weed or grain seeds germinate. Depending on how thick you spread it, expect one to two growing seasons out of straw mulch.
Colored Plastic Mulch
University research has shown that certain vegetables have higher yields when grown on colored plastic mulch, especially vegetables grown under less than ideal conditions, such as a lack of sunlight. What they found is that red is the color for growing tomatoes, green or blue for melons, silver for peppers, and blue for summer squash and cucumbers.
A woven polypropylene fabric, landscape fabric suppresses weeds while allowing water and water to pass through. It comes in different grades and is often used under inorganic and organic mulches to stabilize them or extend their lifespan.
If you have a garden or planting bed that won’t change much over time, consider lava rock as a mulch. It is lightweight, which makes it easier to haul and handle, and is a permanent addition to the landscape. It will not break down or disappear. When laying lava rock, place it on a layer of landscape fabric to prevent the rocks from sinking into the soil.
Available in a variety of colors and shapes, decorative stone mulch gives planting beds a more formal ambiance. You can choose from river rock, which usually has smooth, rounded edges; or quartz, which is unpolished and more jagged. Stone mulch does not degrade over time, so will not need to be replaced if it has been installed on landscape fabric. Refresh the top layer of stones over time if they fade or are discolored.
Fresh Wood Chips
A long-lasting organic mulch option, wood chips take up to four years or more to completely break down. But keep in mind that as the wood decomposes, it robs nitrogen from the soil. You will need to apply fertilizer to keep plants nourished. Wood chips are typically used for garden paths.
Living mulch is a low-growing plant that blankets soil like a mulch. Plants that work well as living mulches include golden creeping jenny, alpine strawberry, low juniper, vinca vine or short mints. Watch out for plants that root along stems as they grow — they can easily become invasive.