The Fine Art of Mulching



Types of Mulches and How To Use Them

 

My #1 choice for mulch
 - Shredded or chunked recycled rubber mulch. 

I use any brand of shredded rubber mulch in a cocoa or espresso brown color, and it looks great contrasting with bright green foliage. It's much lighter in weight than wood chunks. Insects don't care for rubber. Birds don't steal much of it for nesting material.

It looks very much like a wood mulch. but it doesn't fade or decompose. 

I  don't like the chunks, except to mulch the tops of large planters or containers. I also use it under plants in my windowboxes.

Mulching is a gardening tradition that cuts down on the time it takes to water and weed.

Organic mulches include shredded leaves, straw, grass clippings, wood chips, shredded bark, sawdust, pine needles, and undyed paper. Inorganic mulches include rubber, black plastic and landscape fabric.

Both types of mulch discourage weeds, but organic mulches improve the soil as they decompose. Inorganic mulches don't break down or enrich the soil. 

Common and Uncommon types of mulch

Recycled Rubber Mulch - I can't say enough good things about using this around decorative plants. It doesn't decompose. The only thing i don't like is the expense compared to other mulches. The brand i use keeps its color for approximately 12 years. I tried this mulch because i got so darned tired of spreading new truckloads of wood mulches every year. 

Recycled Rubber Paths and garden edges - I use the wide runners as paths to keep the weeds out, and they work great. All rubber products are pricey, but are totally worth it. It doesn't lose its color, and it's permeable to allow water to run through it. Unroll it and add stones as its edge, or push landscape staples in to keep it in place. Sometimes i use a layer of landscape fabric under it. Some path mulches already have landscape fabric attached underneath.

Fake Grass - Yes. Fake. You heard it here, first... 
It may not be a traditional mulch, but you can cover a large or small section and totally block weeds with it like a champ. 
I had purchased a number of these outdoor grass runners and mats with realistic-looking grass blades. It's even colored like natural grass, with lighter areas or faded just like real grass. Permeable to allow water through. You can cut these to use around your landscape where you would have had grass. I like it. It's actually used as puppy training peepee mats. They are also used around patios and on high traffic pathways. We're not talkin' astroturf. I bought one for my dog to have a fairly soft surface to lay on near her "den", because i have a lot of uncomfortable hardscaping. They look pretty, not real. I bought a few in runner and area rug sizes, and just cut them, if need be. They're available in various lengths and widths, and are easy to cut. It has a good rubber backing with teeny holes to let water through.  I used them all summer, and so far, it didn't fade, shred, or come apart. Cleaning is easy with a hose, or pail of sudsy water and a car scrub brush. This, too, should be laid down with landscape pins through it to keep it in place, and to avoid tripping hazards.

Bark and Wood Mulch

Shredded, chunks, dyed or natural.

Bark mulch is most often used around trees, bushes, and in gardens where you donít have to do a lot of digging. Itís ideal for front walkways and foundation plantings where you're not going to be digging much. Mostly for decorative purposes, but it does block a lot of weeds.

Wood chips are a great all-purpose material. They include both hard- and softwood, and come in sizes ranging from nuggets to large pieces.

I like "playground mulch" - it's made from hardwoods and is used under the large equipment on kids' playgrounds as a safer landing pad than concrete. It lasts longer than the usual decorative mulch and it's a pretty natural color. It lasts about 2 seasons before you need to add to it. And only because all wood mulches settle. I get truckloads for about $35 each. Check with your  local bulk mulch and gravel companies.

Wood chips aren't a good choice for vegetable and annual flower beds, since they'll get in the way as you dig. You'll have to move the piles around.

A word about insects - I have had no issues whatsoever with any bugs or belly-crawling things living in the wood mulches i've laid for 25 years. Not even in the termite capitol of the world in my southern garden.

Stone and rock
Both look great, and wonít degrade or blow away. Small stones look nice in a bed with larger river rock or chunks to outline the bed. I use a lot of river rock, not arranged in a pattern, and then top with a white and peach color pea gravel to fill in the gaps between the stones in those decorative areas. I haven't seen a weed once since i've filled in the gaps with gravel or sand.

Grass Clippings and Shredded Leaves.

Grass clippings are a nitrogen-rich mulch in vegetable gardens. I use whole leaves as a winter mulch in rose beds. It looks the same in spring as it did in the fall when you laid it down. it doesn't decompose, but lays down like a thick mat until you remove it. Shredded leaves can just be left on the ground, under other mulches. Grass clippings have a high water content and decompose quickly.  They can also mat down and not allow water to pass through. Donít use grass clippings from a lawn that has been treated with a chemical pesticide or herbicide within a month of mulching. 

Avoid cocoa hulls if you own a dog. It contains a compound that can be toxic to dogs if ingested.

Pine Straw or Hay

I have used both of these and have always been foiled by strong winds and birds stealing it for their nests. Until i discovered hay with tack in it - makes the hay strands slightly sticky and stay put. And it does look very pretty in a cottage or farm style garden.

 I used needles mostly in my southern gardens. Because i had a free supply under the pine trees all around my northern garden.
Beware that critters and vermin might like to use it for their bedding and nesting.

If you're planting a vegetable garden, consider covering it with straw or weed-free hay. This type of mulch retains moisture, prevents weeds, and adds organic matter to the soil when it breaks down. 

Plastic Mulch

Black plastic mulch, warms the soil and radiates heat during the night. Plants like that.

When it's spread tightly over smooth soil, black plastic transmits the sun's heat to the soil beneath, creating a microclimate about three degrees warmer than an unmulched garden. It protects vining crops from rotting, because it stays dry.

On the downside, because water and air can't penetrate the plastic, roots grow very close to the soil surface. The shallow roots suffer from lack of oxygen and moisture, and extreme temperature changes. The plants will eventually die.

I've used it and personally, i just don't like it. Too thin, it tears easily when tree or shrub roots push through, and if you're blessed with garden snakes, under that is where you'll find them. In a pinch,  I would use it under gravel, sane or stone to keep the weeds out.

Permeable Landscape Fabric - i use that under everything. In new beds, bottoms of raised beds before soil, and sometimes on top of the soil for new plantings.. Save money and buy a long roll of it. You'll need to use landscape staples to secure it best. It comes in different thicknesses and quality, so read the label.

Shredded plain print newspaper and the uncolored secret document paper you remove from your shredder. I like this under the decorative rock, and under plants with a prettier mulch over it. Very effective weed block.

Mulch It Right

Lay the mulch down on soil that is already thoroughly weeded, and  lay down a thick-enough layer to discourage new weeds from coming up through it.

A four-inch layer of mulch will discourage weeds. I've done well with 3 inches.

Mulches that retain moisture can slow soil waming.  In spring, pull mulch away from perennials and bulbs for faster growth. A wet mulch piled against the stems of flowers and vegetables can cause them to rot, so keep mulch about one inch away from crowns and stems of plants.

Mulch piled up against woody stems of shrubs and trees can also cause rot and encourages rodents to nest comfortably. Keep deep  winter mulches pulled back about a foot away from trunks. The deeper the organic mulch, the more chances you have of becoming a rodent-grandparent in the spring.

 

Recommended Mulching Products that I've used myself

Note: I'm not listing the rubber or wood mulches here, because i think they're way too expensive. 
I purchase irubber mulch in 40lb. bags from a gravel and stone landscape company that delivers, or i get 
smaller bags on sale at a home or garden center at about a quarter of the price of the mulches listed here.

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