Mulching the gardens, flower beds, shrubs and plants around your house offers a number of important benefits. Mulch improves the appearance of your landscaping, keeps weeds down by preventing seeds from sprouting, helps hold water in the soil, and reduces frost heaving and protects from frost burn in cold climates. Organic mulches also improve the quality of the soil over time.
Types of Mulch
Mulch can be made from many materials from rotted straw or old newspapers to stone. Some of the mulches most easily available are fir and pine bark, shredded coconut hulls, wood chips or fibers, gravel, marble chips, shredded rubber and compost. Many commercial mulches are tinted red, brown or black. The kind you choose depends on a number of factors. Appearance and cost are two key considerations. You may also consider how the mulch behaves over time. For example, shredded rubber is generally not recommended for homeowners---it gets too hot in the sun and could damage your plants and cause burns to your hands. Color-enhanced mulches fade, but look very nice for three or four months.
Commonly-available mulches vary considerably in price. According to a couple national home improvement stores, as a general guideline, the most expensive commercial mulches are landscaping rock such as marble chips, pond pebbles, pea pebbles and river pebbles. These cost about four times as much as the least expensive mulches, which include pine bark mulch, colored mulch, cedar mulch, redwood cypress mulch, and coconut mulch. In between are organic mulches, mulches treated with fertilizer, hemlock mulch, and rubber mulch. You can also mulch with grass clippings or old newspapers, which are free, but may not add the same aesthetic value to your property.
Common wood, bark and hull mulches come in bags that hold 2 cubic feet of the product. If you spread the mulch 1 inch deep, 2 cubic feet will cover 24 square feet. This Old House strongly recommends against mulching more than 1 inch deep, and they recommend stripping off the old mulch every two years. While mulch prevents water from evaporating, too thick a layer of mulch will keep water from getting to the plant's roots. For large projects, nursery supply companies and landscaping companies offer mulch in larger quantities at a more affordable rate than bagged mulch. Many companies will deliver mulch by the truckload to your home.
Mulching Around Your Foundation
No mulches are treated with insecticides, so if you are mulching right up to your foundation, special considerations apply. The first, according to a salesperson at a garden center, is to avoid mulching right up to the foundation. He recommended creating a 6-inch buffer zone covered with pebbles or other stone material to keep pests away from the house. If termites are a problem in your area, do not use a mulch that contains wood, which is what termites eat. Bark mulches are an exception, since termites do not like bark.
- Photo Credit garden rock border image by Jim Mills from Fotolia.com
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