After investing in beautiful plants and trees across your landscape, it might seem like mulch is the simple final step to capping off your work of art. Mulch is easy to install and makes a big visual difference around any yard. However, mulch does more than simply polish a flowerbed – it serves many functional purposes, too. 

Adhering to proper techniques will help avoid health problems for plants while still creating the finished look every homeowner desires. In our Mulching 101, we explain the benefits of mulching and deliver mulching tips and tricks before you get started. 

Benefits of Mulch

By laying mulch, you gain more than just a well-groomed, uniform look. Mulching will retain moisture and insulate the soil (protecting roots from extreme temps), subdue weeds, reduce erosion and prevent or limit some plant diseases. In other words, if you want a productive and healthy landscape, be sure to mulch! 

Some types of mulch that decompose can even deliver nutrients to improve soil fertility. Blueberry plants and azaleas thrive in acidic soil, so they benefit from a mulching of pine needles. This cost-effective, organic mulch breaks down over time to improve the soil below. 

Types of Mulch

Most people are surprised to find out exactly how many different materials work as mulch. Organic mulch options, which originate from living materials, are better for plants and retaining soil moisture. On the other hand, inorganic options don’t need replacing as often. Here are a few different types of mulch to consider for your landscaping projects:     

    • Bark. Shredded bark from cedar and other trees is one of the most common mulches on the market. But beware of cheap bagged mulches that often include lumber byproducts or construction debris. Larger chunks don’t break down as quickly as finer shredded varieties, but the finer pieces blow away easily. 
    • Pine Needles. Rake and gather your own pine needles (sometimes called pine straw) for a light yet compact layer of mulch that stays in place.
    • Compost. Turn a pile of kitchen scraps, leaves and grass clippings into “black gold” by laying them as mulch after they decompose. The nutrients get recycled back into another generation of plants. 
    • Straw. Another light and inexpensive option, straw deters bugs from laying eggs near the soil. Though the straw doesn’t fare well in the wind, it’s ideal in a veggie garden, particularly with larger plants (tomatoes, peppers, etc). 
  • Rock or Gravel. Need a different aesthetic? Try pea gravel or river rock for a sophisticated look that’s available in endless colors and textures. This long-lasting material won’t break down or need frequent replacement like the organic options above. 
  • Rubber Chips. This inorganic option provides the look of traditional bark, but it won’t decompose or blow away. Rubber chips are made from recycled materials and they work well in play areas, too.

Before selecting mulch, consider the amount of planting activity in each area. Inorganic mulches aren’t ideal in places that see regular digging/planting (like a vegetable garden) because it’s not ideal for them to mix with the soil. Longer-lasting gravel makes more sense in a less heavily planted bed or walkway because it won’t break down and doesn’t need to be replaced too often.

Mulching Techniques

Consider these tips and techniques for mulching success: 

  • Start by measuring the beds you want to cover, then use a mulch calculator to ensure you buy enough mulch. 
  • Always weed the bed/area before laying mulch. For extra-invasive weeds, consider a layer of weed netting before applying the mulch on top.
  • Wear gloves and old clothes if you have colored mulch because it may leave a residue on skin and clothes.
  • Spread mulch about two to three inches thick across the soil or weed netting. This thickness prevents weeds but still allows for necessary evaporation from the ground below. If you use lighter materials like straw that start fluffy but compress with time, layer four inches or more.
  • Keep a few inches around the base of each tree and plant free of mulch. Disease or pest problems can develop if mulch piles up directly against the tree or plant. 
  • Water the mulch to keep it from blowing away. Regular watering keeps the mulch in place and looking fresh.

When to Apply Mulch

Late spring is the best time to mulch in Ohio. By then, the soil warms up and is dry after the winter snow. If you mulch earlier than that and delay the drying process, it can limit root growth for new or existing plants. They need warmer air and oxygen to enter the soil. 

If you miss the spring mulch, make sure to mulch in late autumn to help slow the freezing process in winter. Slowing the freeze is critical to avoid root breakage. 

Brothers Grimm Landscaping 

Choosing the right mulch helps maintain plant health across your landscape, but it’s also important to select a material that fits the space’s needs. If you’re overwhelmed with these decisions or don’t have time to lay the mulch yourself, Brothers Grimm can help. Connect with our team today.