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To Mulch or Not to Mulch

to mulch or not

To mulch or not to mulch…It is a question many gardeners ask themselves. Mulching does much more than make your landscape look nice.

  • It can help keep weeds down. (Who doesn’t want that?!?)
  • It helps the soil retain moisture, reducing how often you need to water.
  • It keeps soil cool in the hot summer months, thereby keeping the roots of your favorite plants cool.
  • It helps prevent “heaving” (small plants getting pushed out of the ground as the soil freezes and thaws) in the cooler months, which is especially important for newer plantings.
  • If you are using a natural mulch like shredded bark or composted leaves, the mulch will add nutrients to your soil as it decomposes.

One trick to mulching is knowing how mulch to use.

You never want more than 2-3 inches of mulch around your perennials, rose bushes and annuals. Although using extra mulch sounds like a great way to save time in the future, it can suffocate your plants and cause them to rot. Periodically stirring your mulch will enhance its appearance and will be helpful in preventing it from compacting, and remember, each season you will also want to refresh or replace your mulch.

Trees and shrubs will need about 3-4 inches, starting with a thin, 1-inch layer near the trunk or stem then gradually increasing in depth as you expand out to the drip line. While it might be tempting, avoid “volcano mulching” or applying a tall layer of mulch around the base of the trunk or stem. Volcano mulching can lead to root rot and insect issues.

So, what kind of mulch is best?

That depends on your personal taste and what plants you are mulching.

  • The most universally used mulches are shredded bark mulches including hardbark, cedar and pinebark. These work well around foundational plantings, trees and shrubs and in garden beds.
  • You can also mulch using compost. Its rich, dark color will set off your plantings while enriching your soil! At the end of the season, simply turn it over into your existing soil.
  • There are also non-organic options such as landscape fabric, stones and river rocks. 
    • Landscape fabric works well around foundation plantings as well as trees and shrubs. It helps keep weeds down while allowing water, air and fertilizer to get through. 
    • Stones and river rock work well in rock gardens, areas that require a little more drainage, and around plantings that can tolerate more heat. Also since stone and river rock don’t decompose, you don’t need to replace them.

So as we move into the summer months, adding a little mulch will help keep your landscape looking its healthy, weed-free, “put together” best.

Wondering how much mulch you need? Check out our handy mulch calculator!


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