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Tips for Using Landscape Mulch

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Landscape mulch is any type of material placed over the soil to control weeds and conserve soil moisture. Proper mulching can improve the health of your plants, making them more resistant to disease, insects, and drought.

Organic landscape mulch includes wood chips, bark, leaves, pine needles, compost mixtures, cocoa hulls, and other plant-based material. Organic mulches contribute to the composition of the soil, adding nutrients and making the soil richer and better for the plants.

Organic mulches do have some drawbacks. If you have problems with rodents, you might consider an inorganic mulch. In very moist climates, organic mulches may hold too much moisture, which encourages slugs and snails, and the stems of plants that come in contact with the mulch may rot.

Inorganic landscape mulches include various types of pulverized rubber, some geotextile fabrics, and stones and rocks. Inorganic mulches, while more effective at keeping out weeds, do not contain nutrients to improve the quality of the soil. Inorganic landscape mulch is most often used for decorative purposes.

Applying Mulch

Before you apply mulch, inspect the area. Find out if the soil has enough drainage and determine what type of mulch is compatible with the plants you have. Check the depth of any existing mulch and do not add more if the depth is sufficient. You can use vegetable-based dyes to improve the appearance of faded mulch that does not need to be replaced

Mulching Tip 1:
You can have too much of a good thing. Because mulch does help retain moisture, too much mulch can lead to excess moisture, which can lead to root rot (especially in trees). Too much mulch can also alter the pH of the soil, causing toxicities or deficiencies. Also, fine mulch can become matted if too thick, preventing air and moisture penetration.

The right depth for landscape mulch depends on the type of mulch, climate, and soil conditions. Usually, the recommended depth for organic mulch is about two to four inches. However, if drainage is poor, two inches may be too much.

Mulching Tip 2:
Do not pile landscape mulch against the stems of plants or the trunks of trees, as this can stress the plant tissues and lead to pest problems. Piled mulch provides a nice home for rodents, who may chew the plant roots and cause tree girdling.

Mulching Tip 3:
For trees, apply mulch at least out to the drip line (the border of the canopy of the tree), with space between the mulch and the tree. Root systems extend beyond the drip line, so it is okay to spread a thin layer of mulch beyond the drip line.

Mulching Tip 4:
Rake the landscape mulch to prevent matting.

Mulching Tip 5:
Compost makes great mulch.

Updated: March 14, 2013 — 1:49 am

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