Spring Mulching 101

Mulching your landscape makes your entire yard look more perfectly manicured. Many people don’t realize it’s not simply pleasing to the eye. Mulch can considerably improve the health of landscape plants if laid properly. Here are some mulching basics.

Rock, rubber, fabric or wood?

Time to Mulch

Organic mulches come from natural materials. These mulches will decompose over time while adding nutrients and beneficial organic matter to the soil.

Mulches fall into either the inorganic or organic category. Inorganic mulches include lava and river rock, mineral rock, gravel, pulverized rubber, geotextile fabrics and so on. They do not readily decompose. This makes them long-lived and low-maintenance.

Organic mulches come from natural materials, usually plants or plant parts. They include materials such as cocoa hulls, hardwood and softwood (conifer) bark, wood chips and other wood products. As they decompose over time, they add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Beneficial organisms and microorganisms are enhanced while disease-causing pathogens are inhibited. Because they have a shorter lifespan, they need more frequent replenishing than inorganic varieties.

Mulch ado about these benefits

In addition to their decorative value, mulches offer many pay offs for your soil and plants including:  

  • They are nature’s sunglasses. They shield the soil from the sun’s rays, which reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation. 
  • They are natural insulators, keeping the soil cooler during the summer and warmer through the cold winter months. This lessens the effects of fluctuating temperatures on plant roots.  
  • They nurture your soil. Natural, unrefined matter is added to the dirt as the organic mulches break down. This organic matter improves the soil’s moisture- and nutrient-holding capacity, structure and drainage. 
  • They help banish weeds and suppress some plant diseases.
  • They keep it together. Mulched areas are less prone to erosion.

Lay it on (just not too thickly)

Your mulch-laying technique determines whether or not mulch will help or hinder your landscape. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Senior woman mulching a flowerbed

    For best results, apply mulch one to three inches thick while avoiding plant crowns and tree bases.

    Place mulch away from plant crowns or tree bases. Laying it against these areas can cause excess moisture retention, which encourages the development of diseases and may even provide free lodging for rodents.

  • Apply it no more than one to three inches thick. Wood mulch may undergo high-temperature decomposition when it’s applied too thickly, causing it to dry out. Mulching too deeply can also cause the soil to remain wet for too long, leading to root and stem rot. In addition, thick mulch can deprive your plants of needed oxygen. 
  • Thoroughly water newly installed wood or bark mulches. If the mulch is allowed to dry out or remain dry, nuisance fungi can move in. This can create a water-repellent surface.
  • Lightly incorporate a nitrogen source into the soil such as blood meal, urea or a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer before applying mulch. The soil microorganisms that decompose organic mulches are competitors for limited soil nitrogen. This may cause a temporary lack of nitrogen, especially in your seasonal flowers.  

Whether organic or inorganic, properly laid mulch can add a layer of protection as well as beauty to your lawn and garden.