Mulch is more than just a decorative background that can make the colors in your garden pop – it is food and protection as well. Mulching can be one of the most effective ways to take care of your garden, when done correctly. When done incorrectly, it can be deadly to your plants – mulch eventually turns into soil, so having the wrong mulch can ruin your soil, requiring repair later on.
Choosing the Right Mulch
There are a number of different types of mulch available, each of them having different effects on the ground, having different uses. The ideal mulch should enrich your garden and soil, protect and feed. You’ll need to look at different aspects of the mulch when you’re checking it out.
- Composition – What type of wood is being used? Cypress and cedar mulches will not compost, and will smother the plants. They can be useful for decoration, especially on pathways, but not in gardens. Other mulches are non-specific, and these mulches often contain recycled wood from pallets or other waste woods. This will be bait for termites and will actually take nutrients from the soil instead of adding them. Pine bark and hardwood mulches tend to be the best mulches, integrating into the soil and keeping the chemical levels right.
- Fine or chunky – Mulch comes in different consistencies – nugget, shredded, and finely ground. Finely ground can be difficult to deal with, as when it dries it tends to blow around. It does smother the weeds effectively, but it can be a breeding ground for fungus due to not being able to dry out after a rain. Nugget mulch, on the other hand, dries out quickly and does not pack down like finely ground. This discourages fungus, but also means that it takes longer to break down and integrate into the soil. Shredded generally falls between the two ends of the spectrum. Your best bet is a combination of types, but failing that, the nugget consistency seems to have the best track record.
- Color – Dyed mulches should generally be avoided, as the dye changes the chemical composition. Stick to natural brown to avoid introducing extra chemicals – sure, it might not look as pretty, but it will help your flowers and gardens to grow, and those should be the highlight of your yard.
Applying Mulch Correctly
When laying mulch down, you’ll want to spread between two and four inches throughout the garden, except around the plant you want to protect. Plants need breathing room, so you’ll need to leave four inches or so around the plants for water to collect and feed the plant. Any closer than that, you limit the water – any further, you provide too much of an opportunity for weeds to flourish.
Knowing how to apply the mulch correctly will allow you to estimate just how much mulch you need. Figure out the square footage where you will be applying the mulch. Divide the square footage by 4 to find out how many cubic feet you will need if you want the cover to be 3 inches thick, or by 6 to find out how much you will need if you are applying it at a thickness of 2 inches. From here, you can decide whether buying it by the truckload or by the bag will be more efficient.
Make sure you pull as many weeds as possible before you mulch, it makes it even easier for the mulch to do its job. Get your mulch as soon as possible and lay it down before it gets too hot. You’ll also want to ensure that when you get mulch, you put it on right away – left in bags over time, it can sour or decompose further.