Spring is in the air
—and so is the smell of mulch. You’ve likely started to see fresh layers being applied around the neighborhood, but aside from its aesthetic value do you know why mulch or bark is good to have in a garden? This article will explore all of that and more.
We’ll talk about why mulch is used, what to consider when buying mulch, different types of mulch, and how to actually apply it. If you want all of the benefits of mulch without much work involved, don’t forget that we also provide affordable landscape mulch installation and delivery services.
Why Use Mulch?
This is likely the first benefit of mulch that comes to mind. Simply put, it just looks great! Mulch really makes those garden plants pop and its rich color looks great in contrast to your shrubs, trees, and lush green grass.
In this case, you can judge a book by its cover, because not only does mulch look great, but it’s also great for your garden.
As we’re starting to see the mercury rise a little, this is probably one of the most important benefits of mulch: its capacity to retain moisture.
A layer of mulch will add a slight evaporation barrier so that you can spend less time watering. Once you do water, it will remain in the soil for longer because it evaporates at a slower level. This keeps your thirsty plant roots happy, and it means that you can reduce your watering frequency (and, as a result, that high summer water bill!).
For anyone who added a layer or two of mulch last year, you’ll likely notice that some of it has “disappeared.” It actually hasn’t disappeared per se, but organic mulch, like wood chips, bark mulch, shredded leaves, grass clippings, and more will break down over time and provide essential nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
This is all thanks to the support of insects and microbes that are naturally found in the soil. They’ll consume the mulch over time, and the byproducts of this process will return to the soil in the form of organic matter.
It’s a win-win, your lawn looks great, microbes and insects are happy, and your garden soil will benefit as a result.
This may come as a surprise, but mulch, especially organic materials, can stabilize soil and serve as an effective way to control erosion. It does this by supporting the soil during heavy winds or rains.
It will reduce the flow velocity after a heavy rain, which can support normally erosion-prone areas.
Does mulch prevent weeds? Let’s answer that question by asking another one:
What’s one of the top requirements for your healthy plants? Sunlight.
Well, weeds also need sun, and by providing a layer of mulch, you’re effectively shading them out and preventing their growth. You’ll stop their sprouting before it even starts, and minimize any competition for your plants.
Think of mulch as an insulator, a warm coat in the winter or a nice hat for shade in the summer. A layer of mulch helps to protect against rapid temperature changes. It’ll keep the soil temperature at an adequate level to keep your plant roots cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
This is especially important for new plants, as any significant changes in temperature might shock them to the point they can’t recover.
Things to Consider When Buying Mulch in South Shore, Massachusetts
Many of the benefits associated with mulch come from organic mulches, like wood chips, bulch mark, and straw. These are made up of formerly living material, which is why they’ll enrich the soil as they break down.
There’s also inorganic mulch, which typically includes things like plastic mulch or landscape fabric (which generally isn’t recommended). While these will still eliminate competition from weeds and help retain moist soil, they won’t provide some of the other benefits.
They do offer a benefit not found in some organic mulches, however. Black plastic mulch is a great way to heat a garden, either before planting in early spring, or to keep roots warm during cool summer evenings (providing ideal conditions for heat-loving plants like tomatoes and eggplants).
Additionally, because it doesn’t decompose like organic mulches too, plastic or inorganic mulch will not need to be replenished as often.
When it comes to aesthetics, you’ll typically be faced with three colors of mulch—brown, red, and black. For the most part, these are dyed with non-toxic dyes, like carbon-based dyes for black mulch and iron oxide-containing dyes for red mulch. While there is no evidence that these are in any way toxic for your soil or plants , you may end up with stained hands when applying it!
There is a concern of contamination, however. For the most part, these colored mulches are made with recycled wood products, like pallets, reclaimed construction materials, and other types of wood bark. This is a great way to reuse discarded materials, and they more readily absorb dyes than other types of wood, but there’s the potential that they’ve also been treated.
Some pressure-treated wood is contaminated with chemicals like CCA (chromated copper arsenate) and creosote (especially with older wood sources).
If you’re looking for a local mulch delivery, be sure to get it from a trusted source and inquire about the wood that was used to make it. As always, feel free to contact JMF landscaping. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.
Wood Chips and Bark Mulch
Wood chips and bark mulch are known for their aesthetics. They’re visually pleasing and they come in a range of colors and textures to suit any landscape. For the most part, they also decompose at a slower rate than other types of organic mulch, so they last longer than mulches like straw or grass clippings. You’ll still probably want to replenish the layer every year or so.
This also means that they’re not an ideal choice for vegetable or annual flower beds, as it will make new plantings more difficult. However, if you’re looking for something to consistently support a shrub border, tree perimeter, perennial flower bed, or garden pathway, this is a good choice for mulch.
Unfortunately, their slow decomposition also means that nutrients aren’t as readily accessible as these other types of organic mulches. In this case, you may still want to add some form of organic matter, like compost, or fertilizer.
Here are some common types of wood-based mulch:
- Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus is well known for its attractive scent that humans love—but pests and insects are repelled by. Based on its composition, there is some general concern that eucalyptus mulch is toxic to nearby plants. However, this is not the case and most plants will do just fine with eucalyptus mulch .
- Hemlock: Hemlock is an attractive mulch with a rich orange, red, or burgundy color. As you can imagine, this creates a beautiful contrast with all of the green growing things in your landscape. You may find a hemlock available in both larger chunks and very finely ground pieces.
- Cedar: Like eucalyptus, cedar has a lovely fragrance for humans, but repels many pests and insects (especially after just being applied). An added benefit of cedar mulch is that it tends to last a bit longer then some other types of organic mulch , making for great all season mulch.
- Cypress: Cyprus is yet another type of mulch with a lovely scent and, like, cedar, it lasts longer than other mulches. It also deters many pests, as well as most types of fungi. However, it is known to make soil more acidic during its decomposition process, and as a finer mulch material, it may wash away— especially on sloped surfaces.
- Pine Bark: Pine bark mulch is another type of mulch that may decrease the soil’s pH as it decomposes. As it’s naturally acidic, it may change the soil over time. However, this is only when it’s used for consecutive years, and it likely won’t have a drastic impact if applied less frequently .
- Hardwood: Hardwood mulch is readily available in nearly any hardware or garden store and is made from biodegradable materials and byproducts from industry. Organic hardwood mulch is also available.
Before typing “bark mulch near me” into your search bar, let us help! We have black, brown, and hemlock mulch available, and can deliver to Holbrook, Quincy, Hingham, and Weymouth—or outside of those areas if you need a local bulk mulch delivery!
What are Some Alternatives to Mulch?
If your budget is tight and you want to repurpose something right at home, grass clippings will be readily available all summer long! Given their high nitrogen content, grass clippings are a natural fertilizer, and works well in vegetable gardens.
However, if your lawn is disease-prone or has leaf spots or rust spots, avoid using it as mulch. Additionally, only use dry clippings, otherwise you run the risk of creating a dense mat, which will prevent moisture from reaching the soil .
Shredded leaves can be used just like grass clippings as a mulch. They’re an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. Plus, reusing them in the lawn is a more sustainable and economic alternative than putting them out for solid waste collection!
Straw is relatively slow to decompose, making it an excellent source of both nutrients and protection for vegetable plants. Straw is hollow and it won’t mat or become compacted like some other materials, which makes it a perfect way to protect soils without covering them too densely.
Don’t confuse straw with hay, however, as hay contains seeds that will lead to endless weed pulling!
If you’re able to source a good quality compost that is sure to be free of weed seeds, it can be an excellent mulch that provides essential nutrients and organic matter. It’s especially useful around shrubs and trees and also makes for an excellent mulch for nutrient-hungry plants, as it has a more balanced carbon to nitrogen ratio than most other types of organic mulch, which increases nutrient availability .
Plastic mulch typically comes in the form of a black plastic sheet that’s made from polyethylene film. Just like organic mulch, it reduces moisture evaporation, prevents weed growth, and insulates the soil.
When it comes to the latter, it’s actually more insulative than most types of organic mulch, making it ideal for warming up the soil before an early-spring planting, or keeping the soil warm as the weather cools overnight.
It also works well to insulate perennials, trees, and shrubs throughout the winter, and can prevent severe damage, especially when temperatures drop really low.
Clear polyethylene is also available, and while it provides many of the same benefits, it’s not so great for weed suppression, because it still allows sunlight to pass through.
One thing to keep in mind with plastic mulch is that it may actually warm the soil up too much, which isn’t ideal for all crops. Additionally, it significantly minimizes water evaporation, meaning that you might find that you have problems with excessive moisture and the disease and pest infestations that may come with it.
Rocks and Pebbles
There’s one big benefit that comes with using rocks and pebbles as mulch: they won’t ever need replacing! As inorganic materials that don’t break down, your layer of rock mulch will last a lifetime.
Rock mulch often comes in the form of lava rock, which is hardened volcanic lava. It’s lightweight, porous, and comes in a range of colors including brown, red, or black. Alternatively, pea gravel, river rocks, decomposed granite, or other types of rocks and stones may also be used.
One thing to consider with rock mulch is that in the middle of summer, dark rocks will become very hot, possibly too hot for the plants nearby. Be sure to only use rock mulch around plants that can tolerate the extra heat, or choose reflective light colored rocks instead.
How to Use Mulch Properly
Determine How Much to Buy
The first step to laying mulch is to determine how much you need! You can choose to either use an online mulch calculator, OR you can revisit your trusty middle school math skills and do a simple calculation:
First, calculate the length and width of your space. Don’t have a measuring tape? Here’s an easy trick:
- Measure the length of your space by counting the number of steps, then multiply by 2.5
- Measure the width of your space by counting the number of steps, then multiply by 2.5
- Total length x total width = square footage
Then, figure out how many bags (cubic feet) are needed for roughly a 2” thick layer of mulch (numbers can be doubled for a thicker 4” layer).
- For bags that come in 2 cubic feet: square footage/12 = total bags needed
- For bags that come in 3 cubic feet: square footage/18 = total bags needed
- For mulch that comes in bulk: square footage/128 = number of scoops needed
When to Apply Mulch?
With the excitement that comes with warming temperatures and the first signs of spring, many of us are very quick to get it out into our gardens and apply mulch right away. However, it’s best to wait just a little bit so that the soil has some time to warm up slightly.
As mulch acts as an insulator, if you apply it too early it may actually prevent the soil from warming up when spring temperatures rise.
That said, get ready to look for a mulch delivery near me around mid- to late-spring.
Areas to Avoid Mulching
Additionally, you also want to be careful around areas that are low lying, consistently damp, or prone to flooding. Adding any mulch here may end up retaining too much moisture, which could encourage slugs or other types of pests to overpopulate.
How to Use Mulch to Prevent Weeds, Pests, and Other Threats
Most types of mulch will work extremely well to prevent weeds from growing, however, they likely won’t take care of all of the weeds that are already in your garden. That said, it’s important to weed prior to laying the mulch.
Unfortunately, the ideal conditions mulch provides for your plants are also ideal for many insects. It’s important to realize that for the most part, these insects will provide some beneficial services by helping to decompose organic mulch.
However, if you want your garden rid of creepy crawlies, you can take steps to prevent infestations of centipedes, ants, millipedes, earwigs, spiders, and sowbugs. For example, you can choose inorganic mulch, or try cedar or cypress because the scent should minimize the insects that call your new mulch bed “home.”
Wondering how to get rid of mushrooms in mulch? Like insects, wood chips and bulk mulch also provide perfect conditions for a range of different types of fungi (some edible, most a nuisance, some poisonous!).
To keep mushrooms out of your garden, you can manually remove them using a rake or your hands, cover them up with a thicker layer of mulch, or treat them with a homemade solution. You can use a diluted bleach solution , but be careful to avoid your plants. You can also use vinegar, or a baking soda and water combination .
How to Lay Mulch
As they say, too much of a good thing can be problematic. This goes from mulch, too. In order for it to work as an adequate insulator, weed inhibitor, and moisture retainer, you need to be sure that you lay an appropriate amount.
As a general rule of thumb, a layer of wood chips or bark mulch that’s approximately 3 to 4 inches high is perfect . If you’re working with really dense, heavy soils, just 2 to 3 inches should do.
Be sure to be careful when piling up mulch around trees or vegetable and flower stems. Give it a little space so that you don’t provide ideal conditions for rodents, root rot, or fungi.
Laying Mulch in Four Steps:
- Prepare your tools. Before you get started, it’s a good idea to have everything that you’ll need ready to go. Have your mulch close by, a wheelbarrow to transport it, a pitchfork or shovel to move it into the wheelbarrow, gloves to keep your hands protected and dye-free, and a rake to spread the mulch in your garden bed (the flat side is easier).
- Prepare your garden beds. Before applying the mulch, it’s a good idea to provide a thorough watering (especially if you haven’t received rain recently). After applying mulch, the moisture will be retained. You’ll also want to remove all weeds so that the mulch has a better chance at keeping them all at bay.
- Apply and spread mulch. Applying the mulch in several, smaller piles tends to make it easier to spread evenly. You can use your rake to spread it initially, then your hands to get an adequate, even coverage.
- Water your mulch. If conditions are especially dry, or you’re worried about wind or a slope moving the mulch, you can water again to help the mulch settle.
We’ll Help With Your Mulch Delivery! If you’re asking yourself, “where can I get a mulch delivery near me,” and you’re in Holbrook, Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, Situate, Brockton, Avon, Abington, Whitman, or anywhere else on the glorious South Shore of Massachusetts, give us a call!