Tomorrow, April 22nd is Earth Day, and there’s no better way to celebrate than to do something good for your landscape or for the landscape of your community.
The post below details how to mulch, different types of mulch, and the benefits to mulching. A fresh layer of mulch before the growing season begins is a great way to kickstart the health of your plants, so why not get out there for Earth Day?
Before we delve in, let’s start with a disclaimer. This article is written from the perspective of gardening in the Southeast. While I am writing from Zone 7, the information in this article can generally apply to any region. If you have questions you can either leave a comment below or contact your local garden retailer. Remember that while there is no wrong time to mulch, in my area the months of February to April generally make the most sense. Plants are coming out of dormancy with their first spring flush and landscape beds have been cleared of leaves and other debris. Applying mulch now will give you the most bang for your buck during the growing season, and we’ll discuss more of those benefits below.
What Is Mulch?
It may seem like a simple question but there is some variance in the answer. The simple definition is “a layer of material applied to the surface of the soil,” according to Wikipedia. In the South, we typically use the four types of mulch listed below from greatest to least in popularity.
- Pine needles.
- Hardwood mulch.
- Rock mulch.
- Pine bark nuggets.
Obviously, in Southern states, pine needles are very popular. We grow pines in abundance, particularly along the coast and if you’re keeping up with the Joneses this is probably the mulch that your neighbors are going to have. We see why; pine needles are generally the most cost-effective option and are easy to apply. Their downside is that they have to be applied once a year to remain effective and don’t look fresh for as long as some of the other options. Pine needles are generally sold in bales. To apply them, take the twine off of the bales and shake them out in your landscape beds. You want to create a layer thick enough that you don’t see any of the soil, but thin enough that it doesn’t look like you forgot to shake a chunk of the bale.
Hardwood mulch is also very popular and increases in popularity as you progress through the Northeast. Hardwood mulch should be applied about three inches thick but sparingly around the trunk of a tree. Generally, you want to keep mulch off the very base of the trunk to avoid decay. Hardwood mulch will hold up longer than pine needles will and should be applied every 1-2 years. This mulch will also decompose and help build the soil, giving it a leg up over pine needles. Unfortunately, it is typically more expensive.
Rock mulch is not as popular of an option due to its high upfront cost, but keep in mind that this is a mulch that will last forever and will only need refreshing from time to time. Rock mulch may vary in size from larger river rock all the way down to pea gravel, depending on location and your taste. Other advantages of rock mulch are that debris can be cleaned out easily with a leaf blower and it’s generally easier to pull or spray weeds when needed. Rock mulch can be bought in bulk from a local mulch provider or in bags from your local garden center.
Pine Bark Nuggets:
Pine bark nuggets are also less popular due to their heavy texture. This also means that they take longer to break down and need to be replaced less often, but they can look busy when used in large swaths of the landscape. I recommend using them for pathways or as an accent to break up larger areas of other mulch types.
Why Use Mulch at All?
There are many advantages of using mulch, of any kind, one of the best reasons being weed suppression. We will certainly appreciate this during the growing season when weeds do their best to take over! Personally, I’ve noticed a huge difference in the number of weeds present during years when mulching was skipped and years when the mulch was fresh. Mulch will also help regulate moisture, meaning you will need to water less during those hot summer months. Going along with this, mulch helps to regulate soil temperature protecting roots in both hot and cold extremes. If you still need another reason to mulch, consider the aesthetic benefits. Mulch helps beds maintain a clear separation from the lawn or natural areas. This creates both a clean and crisp landscape while making overall maintenance easier since different zones are defined, and you’ll know exactly where to mow.
Do you plan on mulching this spring? Let us know what mulch you prefer in the comment section below!