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Mulch Frequently Asked Questions

What is mulch?

Mulch is any material placed on top of the soil to cover and protect it. Common mulches include inorganic materials such as rocks. Other mulches are organic and include materials such as compost. All mulches should contain airspaces and must allow water to percolate through to the underlying soil. Avoid direct contact with the base of the plants.

What are the benefits of using mulch?

Both organic and inorganic mulches serve several important functions. A layer of mulch 3 to 4 inches deep is an effective control of weeds and grass. Mulch also insulates the soil underneath. This is especially important in the warm months to reduce water lost to evaporation. The mulch helps further by preventing erosion and compaction. The splashing that often spreads fungal disease may be controlled by mulch. Furthermore, using organic mulch has long term benefits. Organic materials break down and enrich the soil by adding important nutrients and encouraging soil life, duplicating what mother nature does in the forest by recycling nutrients back into the soil.

Are there any disadvantages to using mulch?

Disadvantages to using mulch are few for most. In areas where drainage is a problem, moisture retention may not be beneficial and may encourage moisture-loving pests and diseases. It is important to keep the mulch away from the base of the plants where it holds moisture against the stem. When using organic mulches, especially ones made up of sawdust or straw, there is the possibility of creating a nitrogen depletion in the soil as the mulch utilizes nitrogen for its own decomposition. To avoid this problem, be sure the mulch is not incorporated into the soil, but is only used as a cover. It is also good to use mulches made up of both woody and non-woody materials, such as leaves. Organic mulches do need to be replaced over time since they decompose as they add nutrients. The benefits of using mulch easily outweigh the potential problems.

Where can mulch be used?

Mulch can be used on soil areas such as:
Flower beds
Vegetable garden
Planters
Around the base of Trees
Paths
Children’s play areas.

What materials can be used as mulch?

Bark (Hardwood): Shredded hardwood bark is one of the most popular mulches used in landscape plantings. It is a byproduct of the paper and lumber industries that can be recycled as a mulch. Its pH is slightly alkaline but this problem can be managed by adding 3 lbs of elemental sulfur per cubic yard of bulk bark or per 100 square feet of bed area.

Bark (Softwood): Chunk pine, fir, and redwood barks are the most popular types. This material is acidic in its reaction and does not require any additives to modify the pH. Softwood barks are more resistant to decay than hardwood bark. It is available in a variety of sizes that fit many landscape needs.

Cocoa-bean hulls: A byproduct of the chocolate industry that can often be found in garden centers. This material has good color for use in the landscape. This mulch should be stirred occasionally since it tends to pack down.

Compost: An excellent mulch and soil conditioner that you can make at home by composting various types of yard wastes such as grass clippings, leaves, and plant tops from vegetables and flowers. This partially decomposed material rates as one of the best organic mulches.

Hay (leguminous): Used mostly in farm gardens since the material is more likely to be available. No additional nitrogen is required.

Lawn clippings: Grass clippings are best used when dry. If applied fresh, it should be spread loosely; otherwise, it mats down, produces heat during decomposition, and gives off an offensive odor. Do not use grass clippings from the first mowing after the lawn has been treated with pesticides.

Leaf Mold: This mulch can be obtained by home composting of leaves or from a municipal composting facility. Leaves composted in the fall of the year will be ready for use by spring. This is a good mulch that provides some nutritional value to landscape plantings.

Leaves: Used extensively in natural woodland areas and in areas where trees are abundant. Leaves are the least expensive mulch available but make a better mulch if composted.
Manure (strawy): Makes an excellent mulch for use in gardens if partially decomposed. Aerate this mulch before using to reduce the heat of decomposition.

Peanut hulls: An excellent attractive mulch that can be obtained in garden centers located near peanut processing areas.

Peat moss: This is one of the most commonly used mulches. It has a classy look when used properly, but the cost of the material is often prohibitive when large areas need to be covered. Various particle sizes are available on the market. The coarse grade is recommended for use as a mulch. When dry, peat sheds water rather than allowing it to soak in.

Pine needles: This material makes a light, airy, attractive mulch. It is recommended to leave pine needles beneath pine trees rather than remove them. Pine needles are recommended for use around acid-loving plants.

Sawdust: A very common mulch in areas where readily available. Its decomposition will cause a nitrogen deficiency unless fertilizer is applied regularly. When available, aged sawdust is preferable to fresh sawdust.

Straw: Used for winter protection and as a summer mulch in vegetable gardens. It is highly inflammable and should not be used in high traffic areas.

Wood chips: This material is available from garden centers, arborists, power companies, and municipal yard waste facilities. It is very durable and makes an excellent material for covering paths and walkways. If used on landscape beds, nitrogen deficiencies will develop if fertilizer is not periodically applied.

How do I calculate how much mulch I need for my yard?

We recommend you spread mulch 3 inches deep. If you spread the mulch at this depth one cubic yard covers approximately 100 square feet. To figure how much to buy you will need to find the square footage of the area you wish to mulch and divide that area by 100. ( Length x width / 100 )

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