Clients frequently have questions about mulch so we asked our design team to give us a comprehensive overview on the subject! Read on to learn how mulch helps, where to start, when to do it, and more! Feel free to comment with any questions if there’s a topic we don’t cover.
What is Mulch?
Mulch is a material that is spread across the surface of the soil and around the base of plants and trees to form a protective layer which can provide numerous benefits to your landscape and garden. It comes in a variety of different forms including inorganic materials like stone, gravel and rubber chips as well as organic varieties such as wood chips, straw and compost. If you imagine that your soil is a layer cake, mulch is like the icing on top!
How Can it Help?
- Adds organic matter: When you use organic varieties of mulch like wood chips and compost they eventually break down and contribute nutrients to the soil that can help your plants to grow and thrive.
- Weed control: By blocking sunlight mulch can reduce the amount of weed seeds that germinate and grow beneath the soil. This means fewer hours spent weeding the garden!
- Moisture retention: After being watered much of the moisture on the surface of the soil can be lost due to evaporation, especially during the hot summer months. A layer of mulch helps to seal in moisture and also reduces the amount of water that runs off during watering or a rainstorm.
- Moderates soil temperature: Adding a layer of mulch provides an extra layer of protection that acts like a blanket to insulate plant roots. This helps to keep them warmer during the winter months and cooler throughout the summer.
- Improves appearance: When spread evenly across the surface of the soil mulch creates a uniform surface against which plant textures can pop and stand out. Overall it is a quick way to give a tidy ‘finished’ look to your landscape.
Where to Start?
The first step is deciding which areas of your yard will be mulched. Some people apply mulch to every garden bed and patch of bare soil in their yard while others mulch only around certain plants and trees. Once the desired areas are defined, measure the square footage and calculate for the volume of mulch needed for a 2-3” thick layer of coverage https://www.landscapecalculator.com/calculators/mulch Or for smaller areas, simply eyeball it.
Bagged or Bulk?
Mulch is typically sold in bags measuring 2 cubic feet or in loads which are measured in cubic yards and dumped on-site. One cubic yard is equivalent to 13.5 bags of mulch. Benefits of bagged mulch include consistency, convenience and portability. Buying mulch in bulk can often be more economical for larger areas, though you must also take delivery fees into consideration. Another potential benefit of bulk mulch is that it is likely to be locally sourced. When buying bulk mulch, ask your local garden center or contractor for the specifics.
What Type and When?
There are several types of organic mulch available, among the most popular are shredded bark mulch made from cedar, cypress and pine. In some climates people use cocoa shells or pine straw for acid loving plants. Another option is to use compost or blend compost with bark mulch for a durable and nutrient rich combination. How often to apply mulch will vary depending on the type you use. Most bark mulches can last up to a year, but many people prefer to mulch twice a year during the spring and fall.
Steps to Mulching Garden Beds:
- Pull weeds and clean out your garden beds removing leaves and debris
- Edge beds with a garden spade making a clean line between your lawn and bed which will create definition and help keep the mulch from spilling out on to your grass
- Water garden beds and plants before applying mulch to help seal in moisture
- Apply 2-3” of mulch evenly across soil with rake or by hand
Wait until your perennial plants pop up before applying mulch so that they do not get buried. Finally, when it comes time to spread the mulch, it’s very important to keep mulch at least three inches from tree trunks and the base of woody plants and shrubs. Otherwise you may create a dreaded ‘mulch volcano.’ Trees essentially breathe through their trunks so covering them with mulch can suffocate the plant over time and invite unwanted fungus and pests. When properly applied around the base of a tree mulch should look more like a doughnut. With this practice you can maximize the benefits of mulching and enjoy the sweet satisfaction of caring for your landscape.
Don’t: Pile mulch around tree trunk and make volcano
Do: Give tree trunks room to breath
Feel free to comment with any additional questions!