Table of Contents


Selecting the best mulch for your needs

How to mulch

Organic mulches

Inorganic mulches

For as long as trees have grown in forests, leaves and needles have fallen to the ground and formed a natural protective layer over the soil. This same protection can be given to the plants in our landscapes by mulching. Mulching can make a big difference in the success of your landscape. Mulches conserve soil moisture, allowing you to water less often; keep down weeds; reduce erosion; keep plant roots cool; provide winter protection; and make your yard more attractive.

Mulches also simplify lawn mowing around trees and shrubs. A ring of mulch allows you to bring your lawn mower right up to the edge of the mulch, eliminating the need for string weeders. At the same time you are protecting tree trunks and surface roots from damage by mowing and clipping equipment.

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Selecting the Best Mulch for Your Needs

Many materials can be used for mulching. How do you decide which mulch is best for you? All mulches have different characteristics, some of which may be advantages in some situations and disadvantages in others. See the list of mulches in this brochure for information on individual mulches. Before choosing a mulch, however, consider how you will use it.

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How to Mulch

Summer mulches for annual flowers and vegetable gardens are normally applied in midspring, once the soil has warmed enough for active root growth. For best weed suppression in a perennial border, apply mulch in early spring, before the forsythia blooms. For best results, remove any existing weeds before applying mulch. Mulches applied for winter protection should be laid down 'in early winter, once the soil has cooled but before it has frozen.

For trees and shrubs, spread mulch evenly to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. For trees and shrubs in beds, mulch the entire bed. For those in a lawn, mulch a wide ring (extending from 3 to 6 feet out from the trunk) around each plant. Never pile mulch against tree trunks. Pull mulch back away from the trunk about an inch or so. As organic mulches decompose, they may need to be replenished somewhat every year; but don't let mulch build up to depths greater than about 4 inches.

For flower beds, mulch can be applied up to 3 inches deep (after settling), but should be kept pulled back slightly from plant stems. Mulches should thoroughly cover an area to a uniform depth to be most effective. Low or bare spots are prone to weed problems.

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Organic Mulches

Mulches made from plant material are organic mulches. Over time, organic mulches will decompose and become part of the soil. This is a great advantage, because this decomposition adds organic matter to your soil, helping the soil to better retain water and nutrients-giving you healthier plants. This means, however, that organic mulches will have to be replenished from time to time.

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Inorganic Mulches

Inorganic mulches, often of stone or plastics, tend to stay in place, do not rob the soil of nitrogen, and do not harbor weed seeds. However, they have numerous disadvantages when used in the garden. Stone mulches can migrate down into the soil in time, making future digging difficult. Light-colored stones can reflect heat onto plants, scorching sensitive plants. Stones also tend to work free of beds and can be thrown by lawn mowers, potentially causing injury. Perhaps the greatest disadvantage, however, is that these mulches do not contribute organic matter to your soil.

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