Tis’ the Season for Mulching

mulchingYou see it happening slowly around your neighborhood every spring. A fresh load of mulch gets delivered and a burst of revived gardening occurs around everyone’s home.  If you are still uncertain why this is needed and what you should even look for, there are a few tips that experts say will supplement your less-than-perfect soil and save you time and effort in keeping all your outdoor plants and shrubs happy and healthy.

But, poor soil is just part of the many reasons homeowners put in a layer of fresh mulch each year.  Here are a few of the benefits:

  • The layer of mulch not only supplements poor soil but it helps hold in the water from evaporation so your plants and shrubs can drink it up.
  • A fresh layer looks neat and polished and like your landscaping is freshly tended to.
  • It holds back weeds from growth.
  • It insulates the ground to maintain a nice temperature for your plant/shrub roots. Essentially it will keeps them from cooking during the hot summer, and them protect them more from the effects of a bitter cold winter.
  • Mulch can hold back erosion of your soil around your shrubs and plants caused by heavy rain and drainage runoff.
  • Used around trees, you save lawn mowing challenges of trying to cut close to the tree. Mow around the mulch circle with ease and without damage to roots near the surface of the ground or the trunk.

Which one is right for you?

Many home owners today care about what they are putting around their house and what will be breaking down and going into their soil. They are choosing to go with a nice organic mulch (which is created with crushed pine needles, old leaves and untreated/natural wood chips, for example. All of these materials are able to break down naturally and therefore enrich the soil with their nutrients.

Typically, mulches made of bark chips, wood chips, and even crushed rock are used in decorative purposes like for flower beds. They work beautifully to hold in precious moisture for plants during the hot sunny days of summer. The advantage is that bark breaks down slowly and therefore doesn't need replenishing every year. The large size of the bark chips allows water to run off and into the soil. Soil can be enriched by placing a layer of animal manure or compost before covering with bark chips. Wood chips are derived from many different hardwood and softwood species.

There are also wood mulches (made with discarded wood like from old pallets) that you can buy that have been are dyed black, red, or brown. The vivid color tends to fade over time (sun and the elements take their toll) and they will cost you about 20 percent more with no added benefit other than they provide a burst of color.

How thick do you apply mulch?

If you have never done this before, you may be wondering how much mulch is enough? It is hard to tell how thick the neighbor applied their mulch, right? When it comes to your landscaping, experts say it really depends on the size of the mulch particles you choose.

For example, thin, fine particles like compost or finely shredded bark are best laid only 2 inches (5.1 cm) to no more than 3 inches (7.6 cm) deep around most plants and trees. If you put down a thicker layer than that, you risk reducing oxygen to the roots.

But, in contrast, if the particle size of your mulch is larger, like straw, pine needles, chunks of bark, or rock, they can be applied up to 4 inches (10 cm) deep. Why? Simply put the larger spaces between the chunks allow more air and light in, so you will need a thicker layer for effective weed control, water conservation, and protection from cold.

Most important, you must leave 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) of breathing room near the stem or base of the plant or you could cause the plant and its root to rot.

This is the perfect time of year to plan your landscaping project and speak to an expert at your gardening supply store for advice on what type of mulch is most popular for your area and what will work best for your yard and the plants you choose.

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