The Fine Art of Mulching
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...
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
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.
i had a free supply under the pine trees all around my northern garden.
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.
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.
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
not listing the rubber or wood mulches here, because i think they're way too expensive.
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