Mulching in the home landscape

Mulch is an important addition to any landscape. Not only does mulch make the landscape look better, but mulch also has many other beneficial characteristics including reducing weed growth, conserving moisture, moderating soil temperatures in summer and winter, and reducing erosion and soil splashing.

Mulches are categorized into two basic groups depending on their makeup.
Mulch ring Organic mulches include such material as bark, wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, compost, and newspaper. Organic mulches decompose over time and the organic matter becomes incorporated into the soil. This process is desirable since organic matter tends to improve aeration and water holding capacity of the soil, and also promotes the activity of beneficial soil organisms including earthworms, bacteria, and fungi. The activity of these organisms release nutrients that are needed by plants. The fact that organic mulches breakdown over time means that new mulch will need to be applied periodically depending on what type of mulch is being used.

Inorganic mulches include such material as gravel, plastic, landscape fabrics, and rubber pellets made from recycled tires. Inorganic mulches are relatively inert so they do not break down over time. Plastics and certain landscape fabrics will break down in sunlight. Often a layer of organic mulch is placed over these materials to reduce sunlight exposure. This both prolongs their life in the landscape and improves the attractiveness of the material. Consider the long-term implications when applying an inorganic mulch. Gravel is impossible to separate from the soil once mixed and may become a nuisance on paved walkways and in adjacent turf areas. Chipped limestone will make soils more alkaline and should not be used.

Mulch ring

Mulches are usually applied to a depth of about 2 to 2 and a half inches and should not be applied deeper than about 4 inches. They are most frequently applied in late fall after the soil has frozen. A layer of mulch helps prevent freeze/thaw cycles in the winter. Newly planted plants are especially susceptible to fluctuations in soil temperatures and may even be heaved out of the soil during severe freezing and thawing.

By applying mulch this fall, you can enjoy a more attractive landscape, have fewer weeds next spring, and water less frequently next summer.

Mulch hardwood