Mulching your landscape is both functional and decorative. Often mulch is a layer of organic material, spread at the base of your plants, designed to protect roots from drought and temperature extremes. It conserves water in the soil while providing the roots with nutrients as it decomposes, so mulching is essential for healthy plant growth. As mulch decomposes it often limits the availability of nitrogen to the plant. Adding some dried manure (in bags from your local garden center) should alleviate this problem. Mulching also helps keep out weeds and will prevent soil from compaction, erosion and lawn mower damage (mowing too close to plants). Usually, mulching is carried out in the mid to late spring or fall, when the soil is moist and warm but will vary depending on the type of plant. It’s an easy, no-stress technique for healthier plants.
Types of Mulch
- Grass Clippings: Usually dried and/or composted before using and mixed with other materials as it tends to mat. Provides nitrogen but also higher alkalinity- watch that nutrition isn’t compromised.
- Tree Bark and/or Tree Chips: These are sometimes available for free from municipal sources, this is long lasting and attractive.
- Composted Leaves: This option is a great source of nutrients for roots but susceptible to mold. It’s also free for many.
- Manure: Mulching with manure is an excellent source of nutrients, but you will need to monitor pH levels.
- Mushroom Compost: This compost tends to have a high salt content, so be sure to mix with soil or other materials before using.
- Straw: The texture of straw is coarse so it lasts a long time, but it can also blow away since it’s so lightweight. Mix it with other materials or use as winter protection/cover for grass seed.
- Peat Moss: When peat moss is mixed with soil or some other material, it compacts easily and dries quickly. We don’t recommend this as a top dressing because once it dries out, water will no longer easily penetrate it.
Mulching new plants
Spread your preferred mulch under trees, around shrubs and throughout beds to a depth of 2 to 3 inches deep. The larger radius around the plant you mulch, the better. If mulching a tree, avoid ‘volcano mulching’ which is when you pile the mulch up on the trunk, as it can lead to bark decay. You can sculpt a basin around the plant to help keep future watering in the rootzone of the plant.
Too much mulch is the most common problem and can result in a barrier to water and oxygen absorption which are the most important foods for your plants next to sunlight. Mulch must be porous and not too fine of a texture or it will hold too much moisture, leading to root rot and unhealthy plants. Be careful when using dark colored mulches as they can absorb a lot of heat during the day and lose a lot of heat at night, which could hurt certain types of plants. A final issue is that some organic mulches such as straw, hay or manure could contain weed seeds.
Mulching is one extra step that provides a wealth of extra benefits. Check out our blog for more planting tips and contact Direct Native Plants for all your landscaping needs.