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Everything You Wanted To Know About Mulch
Mulch is the adding of any material over the garden soil to retain moisture levels, prevent weeds, prevent erosion during heavy rains, and help maintain temperatures throughout the day and night. There are many different types of mulch to choose from. The most common forms of mulch are; organic matter, rubber, plastic, and gravel mulch.
Image source: Garden Court Yard
Factors to Keep in Mind When Selecting Mulch
When selecting mulch, keep these factors in mind; appearance, cost, availability, pH, rate decomposition, and where it came from. Factors such as pH and decomposition rate may effect the health of your plants. Some mulch may come “as is” and isn’t clean. But most popular big box garden centers and local nurseries offer a great selection of organic and non-organic mulches that are free of seeds, diseased organic matter, and pests. These mulches are usually aged and may go through some sort of cleaning process that sterilizes the mulch.
If you choose to add your own organic matter as mulch/compost, make sure that its completely composted and that its free of diseased organic matter, seeds, and pests. By composting your organic mulch, you sterilize the compost. But that’s only if your compost pile heats up to 160+ degrees. At this temperature, seeds go sterile, pests die (may die at cooler temperatures), and diseases die out. But to be on the safe side, just through the infected material out.
How To Apply Mulch
Applying mulch isn’t all that hard. But it can be laborious. If you do not have time or you physically can’t do it then, you can get a landscape service to help you out.
As for applying mulch all you need to do is:
- Prepare the beds and areas you plan to add mulch. You can pull or cut weeds and grass as close to the ground as possible. If you are using mulch as a weed screen, you might want to add landscape fabrics (weed screen) to the area. Quick Tip: Using a string Trimmer or a mower on the lowest deck level will scalp the grass and weeds. This generally kills or shocks them.
- Prep the soil. Since you do not have the mulch in place, this is a great time to add compost and other soil additives to help your plants thrive. After the mulch is applied it’s a lot more work to apply compost and other soil treatments
- Lay down weed screen. If you are creating a mulch path or you want to keep weeds out of your beds, lay down your weed screen now. After the mulch is applied, you really can’t put weed screen down without a lot of work.
- Add plants to the beds as needed.
- Apply between two to four inches mulch. This will help to retain moisture and help to prevent weed growth. Quick Tip: When adding mulch, make sure to leave several inches around the tree trunks and plant stems free from mulch or only go an inch deep. Just like adding soil above the original ground level, it can’t choke out the plant and cause other issues with the plants.
- Use a rake to level and spread the mulch around the beds.
When to Apply Mulch
The best time to apply mulch is at or just before the growing season and several times through the growing season if needed. At the end of the season, check the quality of your mulch. Make sure to add more mulch if needed.
During the winter months, you can add more mulch to shelter tender plants from the cold weather. After the last frost of the season, remove the excess mulch so your plants can start growing again.
Most commercial mulches will last about a year. I found that in most cases you can get the promised year out of your mulch without a complete replacement of mulch in your follower beds. I usually only add more mulch if the area is washed out by heavy rains, if it decays faster than the rest of the beds, or if the mulch doesn’t look good.
Container Gardens Need Mulch too!
If you are container gardener, then you will want to add much to your containers. You do not need as mulch as a flower bed. Only about an inch or so. If you have the room and you aren’t choking out the plants, then add at least two inched for better water retention.