Become the Master of Your Mulch
5 Tips for Successful Mulching
By Bill Shores
1. Get familiar with the different types of mulch.
Mulching offers a wide range of benefits in the garden. Mulches that decompose quickly are great for building and maintaining high-quality soils.
Chunkier mulches such as hardwood chips decompose more slowly but can enhance the look and functioning of the garden. Gravel mulch is extremely low maintenance and provides numerous benefits.
2. Decide what benefits you are looking for, then choose the appropriate mulch to provide those benefits.
Improve your soil with a quick maturing mulch such as compost, shredded leaves, pine bark chips, straw or grass clippings.
For a low maintenance mulch that will look good, hold in soil moisture, maintain even soil temperatures and help control weeds—go with a hardwood mulch or pine bark nuggets.
For a super low maintenance pathway or ground cover use gravel. Tiny pea gravel is ideal for attractive walkways and ground covers.
3. Avoid common mulching blunders.
Over applying mulch in thick layers or too close to tree trunks is very harmful and can smother dormant plants.
Fresh wood chips tie up nitrogen in soils, resulting in severe plant stunting, especially in vegetable gardens. Instead use a composted mulch that decomposes quickly.
Avoid mulch made from black walnut or oak as these trees contain juglone, a substance that inhibits the growth of many plants.
4. Time your mulch application for maximum effectiveness.
For soil building, add quick maturing mulches in spring, summer or fall. For mulches that will protect soil over the winter, apply in late fall, after the soil has cooled. Apply gravel mulches at any time of the year.
5. Use available materials to make your own mulch.
Use a mulching lawnmower or electric leaf blower vacuum to gather and shred your fall leaves. Apply the shredded leaves directly to soil or compost them for one year to make leaf mold, a high-value soil amendment.
Compost your food and yard wastes to make your own high-quality compost.