Landscape Mulches Revisited
This is my site Written by Wayne on April 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

For the home gardener probably the most important task they can perform each Spring, is applying a good mulch to their garden. This one project, if for no other reason than the time it will save you, will lift your garden to the next level. We have talked about this before, but we just cannot stress it enough, mulch, mulch, and more mulch.

Why should we mulch? In the first place, itis a good conservation practice. Thick mulch helps prevent loss of top soil from wind and water erosion. Mulching reduces soil compaction, decreases water loss from the soil through evaporation, and lessens soil temperature fluctuations. Mulch tempers the effects of heat and cold. In the winter months the soil in a garden heaves between the combined effects of freezing, thawing and then refreezing, which also can damage plants and shrubs.

Organic mulch decomposes and becomes part of the soil, improving drainage, organic content, and texture. Microbes work by the millions to break down the organic matter and turn it into humus, this buffers the soil pH and improves the soil. A continuous supply of mulch means the bacterial and fungal activity can crowd out the bad stuff. Mulching enriches and protects soil thus, helping to provide a better growing environment.

Organic mulch is also important from the visual perspective. How others see our garden is very important to most gardeners. Mulch keeps our gardens neat and trim. Mulch is useful for weed suppression and control. We would apply mulch for this reason alone. In this day and age who has time to weed?

Mulch comes in a variety of colors and textures to meet your needs. Gone are the days of wood chips and pine bark. Many companies now offer wood and bark chips that have been colorized to match a gardens decor. Colleges and universities now have their landscape areas mulched to match their “school colors. As we said before, ” What true Nebraska “Husker” Fan would be without his or her own perennial bed mulched in red and white.

Inorganic mulch like rubber mulch, stones, black plastic and landscape fabric are also useful tools. Stones and marble chips do the same job as organic mulches. They lend a more formal look to a landscape and help prevent weeds. While inorganic mulches have their place in the garden, they lack the soil improving properties of organic mulches. We have found that the use of plastic sheeting or landscape fabric is in most cases a waste of time and money as weeds quickly grow on top of it. An inorganic mulch may also be difficult to remove if you decide to change your garden plans later.

In choosing a mulch, consider first what is available in your area. The best place to look at different types of mulch is at a garden center. A mulch with course particles remains loose and lasts longer so it’s a better choice. A mulch with fine particles can become compacted and will decompose faster.

Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial tools you can use in the garden. So get out there and mulch.


Tips of the Month

Our favorite mulch is 100% pure shredded sawmill bark that has been double ground. This has excellent uniform texture, color, and decomposition rate plus we like how it sets off our plants. A shredded double ground hardwood mulch with bark would be our second choice. We try to avoid soft woods and fruit woods because, as a rule, they contain a lot of resins.

Mulch, provides an insulating barrier between the soil and the air thus moderating the soil temperature. This means that a mulched soil in the Summer will be cooler than an un-mulched soil. If you are using mulches in your perennial garden, it is best to apply them after the soil has warmed up in the spring. Also, wait until the soil has warmed completely in the Spring to add additional mulch to existing perennial beds.

In the winter, the mulched soil may not freeze as deeply as unprotected soil. Mulches used to help with winter temperatures, can be applied late in the fall after the ground has frozen. Applying mulches before the ground has frozen may attract rodents looking for a warm Winter home.

Types of mulch:

  1. Bark chips – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Attractive, good for permanent mulch, and reusable. Disadvantages: May hinder water penetration. Decomposes slowly unless composted first.
  2. Brick chips – will not decompose, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Cheaper than stone mulch and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Not readily available, high moisture retention, and no organic matter added.
  3. Compost – biodegradable, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Contributes nutrients, turns quickly to humus. Disadvantages: Needs heating period to kill off weed seeds and diseases and may have unpleasant odor.
  4. Corncobs and cornstalks – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Readily available in most areas and good weed control. Disadvantages: Water cannot penetrate well and may generate heat.
  5. Cottonseed hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-4 inches. Advantages: Fertilizing value similar cottonseed meal. Disadvantages: Very light, wind scatters.
  6. Grass clippings – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Improves soil by adding organic matter. Disadvantages: Absorbent, may carry weed seed.
  7. Hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Legume hays (alfalfa) add nitrogen. Disadvantages: First cut hay full of weed seeds and offers poor weed control.
  8. Leaves – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Contain many trace minerals, best food for earthworms. Disadvantages: May become soggy and pack, hindering water penetration.
  9. Paper – biodegradable, apply 5-6 pages or 4-6 inches, shredded. Advantages: May add trace minerals, decomposes readily. Disadvantages: May pack and hinder water penetration.
  10. Peanut hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Adds nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and decomposes rapidly. Disadvantages: Not readily available in North.
  11. Peat moss – biodegradable, apply 3-5 inches. Advantages: Clean and free of weed seeds and improves water retention when tilled into sandy soil. Disadvantages: Extremely absorbent, water penetration hindered and expensive.
  12. Pine needles – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Light, usually free of weed seeds, absorbs little moisture nor does it pack. Disadvantages: Decomposes very slowly.
  13. Polyethylene – will not decompose, apply one layer. Advantages: Retains but absorbs no moisture, black is effective weed control. Disadvantages: Weeds grow under clear plastic and rain will not go through easily.
  14. Rock – crushed gravel or marble chips, will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Relatively inexpensive, not absorbent, water penetrates, and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Poor weed control and adds no organic matter to soil.
  15. Salt marsh hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Usually weed-free; available in marshy areas or along coast, very long lasting. Disadvantages: Not available to everyone. Expensive if purchased.
  16. Straw – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Adds nutrients and lightens soil when tilled under. Disadvantages: Can be a fire hazard.
  17. Vermiculite or perlite – will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Totally sterile, so will not carry disease and no weed seeds. Disadvantages: Expensive, very light; scatters, and hinders water penetration.
  18. Cocoa bean shells – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: attractive color and smell. Disadvantages: Poor water retention, will float out in heavy rains, and makes you want to eat a chocolate bar.
  19. Rubber mulch– is better then any other mulch available in the market today for use in playground areas. Its durability, elasticity, and non-moisture absorbent are some characteristics making it suitable for almost any purpose.


Flower of the Month

2744370614_b989dbe74dWinter rye Secale cereale , a green manure cover crop, is living mulch that provides organic matter to your garden and protect your valuable soil. It a has high cold tolerance, moderate to high shade and drought tolerance and is fast to establish. It prefers a slightly acid soil and sandy loam to loam soil type. Rye grows very tall and plant residues have a high C:N ratio. Because of its cold tolerance, it is the best choice for late fall plantings, providing excellent winter erosion control and removing excess soil nutrients.
In the spring, you will want to turn the cover in at least two weeks before you plan to work the area. This can be done by rote-tilling, plowing, or using a spading fork if the area is small. It is often helpful to mow the crop before tilling. The nitrogen held in the Green Manure’s tissue will now be available to future crops through decomposition.


Web Site of the Month

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
They are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are a non-profit membership organization founded in 1827 to encourage and advance horticultural interests. Their Green Scenes Magazine is an excellent publication. Their Yearly Gold Medal Plant awards it often underused but exceptional plants is very useful to the discriminating gardener.

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Modified: April 4, 2009 at 1:56 pm GMT-0800

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