Do you have a thing for the finished look of freshly mulched flower beds? You’re not alone. Each year homeowners spend hundreds of dollars on mulch. That’s not all - you need to account for what you might pay for the labor to spread it and clean up.
An ideal mulch product mimics nature by covering plants with organic matter that provides nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to the soil. You probably use mulch to suppress weeds, but mulch does much more: it retains moisture, controls erosion, and moderates fluctuating soil temperatures in our plant’s root zones. When properly applied, at the right time and depth, it naturally enhances the soil and plants with the gradual decomposition of organic matter. A thin layer of about 2 inches is all you need to achieve these benefits, plus add uniform color to your garden.
To save you time and money, avoid these ten common mistakes:
1. Volcano Mulch:
This looks exactly like it sounds—a deep pile around the base of a tree trunk. This type of mulching causes the lower trunk to become waterlogged and eventually compacts and interferes with oxygen reaching tree root cells. Volcano mulching decays the tree’s bark and harbors rodents that chew on the base of the tree.
Better choice: Keep mulch away from the base of trees. (PSU Mulch Fact Sheet)
7. Cocoa bean mulch smells good and is organic, but is toxic to dogs.
Better choice: Use another type of mulch.
9. Using chemicals to eliminate weeds and grass for future planting beds. Chemicals harm the environment, our bodies and soil.
Better choice: Lay down newspaper under soil and mulch to kill grass and weeds.
When to Apply Mulch
According to the Ohio State University Extension Office, the first round of mulch is normally applied in spring after the soil is warmed and has dried up somewhat from winter rain and snow. This is normally in the middle or late spring season—perhaps early May. If there is more rainfall than usual, or temperatures stay cool longer than usual, it may be best to delay mulching even until late May or early June. Some gardeners or landscapers may choose to apply another layer of bulk mulch in fall as well. This is often done when growing annuals or fall-planted bulbs as it will help protect against the cold of winter.
Some like to mix compost into the mulch and a 1:4 ratio is good. However, it may be better to mix the compost into the top layer of soil, then mulch. This way, you are amending the soil, not the mulch. Often weed seeds develop in the mulch and the mulch breaks down faster when there is manure mixed in. By applying compost or manure under the mulch, you may be able to delay mulching to every two years.
Wood Mulch vs. Rock Mulch
(Unsponsored Information from Davey)
VERDICT: Mulching your garden reaps benefits throughout the growing season. But what you use makes all the difference. Seek out a local supplier. Ask about the ingredients of their mulch. When buying bagged mulch, look for the MSC product certification. Never buy dyed mulch and never volcano mulch. And finally, remember that organic mulch is overall better than stone. But stone is better than no mulch at all.
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