“Breaking” Down Mulches…




Nothing says neat like nicely mulched garden beds.  However, mulch isn’t only aesthetically appealing it’s one of the most important things we can do to maintain garden bed health.  Mulching helps retain moisture, reduces erosion, provides nutrients, and reduces weed growth.  Mulching is not a “man-made” activity.   Mother Nature actually provides her own mulch in the form of fallen leaves, needles, small twigs, dead flowers, etc…

The purpose of this post is to “break down”, no pun intended, the different types of mulch available.

Mulch can be broken into two categories, organic and inorganic (man-made)

Types of Organic Mulch
Organic mulches are a product of decaying natural sources such as, leaves, grass, and old growth clippings.  It can also be from some of your own trash, coffee grounds, and egg shells for example.  These materials add rich nutrients to the soil as they decompose…

Compost (Topsoil)
Compost is a fantastic mulching material if you true intention is to put nutrients back into the soil.  Compost is a product of decomposed organic life such as grass clippings, leaves, flowers and old growth clippings.  Another source of materials can be from your own refuse such as, coffee grounds (along with filter as long as it’s paper), egg shells, fruit, etc…  However, do your research when it comes to using refuse, as some can attract unwanted animal pests, or spread disease.  Another thing to watch out for in compost is its propensity to harbor and encourage weeds.

Wood Chips
probably the most popular and most aesthetically of the mulches.  Wood mulch will also break down over time to add important nutrients to soil, and also keeps weeds at bay much better than compost will.  If you make it yourself be sure to age it before applying to your beds, and during the aging process be sure to turn it regularly.  Wood mulch that has not been turned regularly can contain toxins harmful to your plants.  Keep this in mind when buying mulch from the local nursery, ask them and feel the mulch it should feel like wood chips mixed with a soft, fine soil.

Similar to wood chips only much “chunkier”.  These are usually sold in nugget form packaged in 40-50lb bags.  Unlike wood chips, there is very little fine material involved.  However much like wood chips bark is very pleasing to the eye.  Bark will last much longer than other organic mulch, and has the ability to lock in moisture.

Pine Needles
Pine Needles can be bought in the form of a bale.  Needles usually take on a “reddish” hue, and again are very pleasing to the eye.  This mulch keeps weeds at bay very well, and also helps with moisture retention.  Needles also last a long time, reducing re-application.

Manure is not eye pleasing to say the least, and it must be well rotted to reduce the odor.  However, manure will add an amazing amount of nutrients to the soil.  Manure is best mixed with topsoil or compost, but keep in mind it can/will contain seeds so be ready to deal with them.
***On a side note, manure can also be added to your bed in the form of “TEA”.  Visit http://www.manuretea.com/ for more on Moo Poo Tea!!

Types of Inorganic Mulch
Inorganic mulch is simply man-made mulching products.  This mulch consists of materials such as, ground up rubber or plastic, smashed brick or rocks, and even shredded paper.  These mulches all offer great weed control, they don’t need to be replaced, BUT they don’t offer your gardens back any of those important nutrients…

Rubber & Plastic
Rubber & plastic mulches are made from 100% recycled products.  They can be purchased in natural colors to emulate wood, bark or manure.  These mulches do most of what you want them to do like, control weeds & soil temps, retain moisture, and it lasts almost forever.  BUT, and it’s a big but, it doesn’t improve or promote healthy beds as it doesn’t off any nutrients back.

Smashed Brick or Rocks
Smashed brick or rocks are probably the most aesthetically pleasing as far as man-made mulch goes.  They don’t control weeds very well, and they tend to overheat beds which can be detrimental to your plants.  They do last forever, so when applying Brick or Rock as mulch, changing it later can become quite a job. 

Shredded Paper
Put all of that junk annoying junk mail to good use.  This man-made mulch won’t last long, and it won’t fight weeds, but it does lock in moisture and helps to control temperatures.  Don’t try to apply this mulch on a windy day or you’ll have a mess on your yard.  Also, try not to use colored print as the ink can damage plants.

We hope if you've read this post you can now feel compfortable about the kind of mulch you select.  We obviously recomend organic mulches due to its ability to add rich nutrients back into the soil, lessoning the need for chemical fertalizers.  Let us know what you think about the post in your comments below!

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