Mulch Basics: Types, Amount, and Installation
Today, you have many different options to choose from when deciding what type of mulch to use for your home landscape. Certain mulches may be more available than others, depending on where you live. We share all you ever wanted to know about mulch for your landscape.
What is Mulch?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, mulch is defined as a protective covering spread or left on the ground to reduce evaporation, maintain even soil temperature, prevent erosion, control weeds, and enrich the soil.
Mulch can be just about anything that achieves one of the above criteria. However, you want to choose a mulch that provides as many benefits as possible, not just one or two.
Why is Mulch Important?
The definition above gives us several benefits of mulch, but there are a few more. Some mulches help with soil compaction. They add an extra layer of cushion that absorbs some of the impacts from foot traffic.
Over time, as organic mulches break down, they add organic material to the soil, improving the soil structure and microorganism activity.
Mulches reduce how much water evaporates from the soil. Some mulches even slow down the rate of rainwater runoff.
Weed control is another benefit of mulching. The mulch shades out the sun so the weeds are less likely to grow.
Lastly, it just looks good. A fresh layer of mulch transforms the look of your landscape and home.
Different Types of Mulch
What types of mulch are available? What are the pros and cons of each mulch?
Organic mulch (hardwood, pine straw, leaves, etc.) and inorganic mulch (stone, shredded rubber, plastic) are the two categories of mulches.
The chart below breaks down some of the more common and not so common mulches with their pros and cons.
Printable version here!
What Type of Mulch is Best For You?
When choosing the best mulch for you, it comes down to your personal preferences. Mulches are available in a wide variety of different materials, textures, and colors. Your style of landscape and location influence your choice as well.
Do you prefer to have a well-manicured landscape with crisp planting bed edges and neatly trimmed shrubs?
For these types of landscapes, shredded hardwood, pine bark granules, and seed hulls are an excellent choices.
Is your landscape more natural and free-flowing?
Pine straw, chunky or shredded pine bark, or even leaves may be a good fit for your landscape style.
Do you live in a location where a fire is a danger?
When fire is a danger, inorganic mulches such as stone, rock, or gravel may be the perfect mulch for you. These mulches aren’t combustible. They provide your landscape with a certain level of protection.
How to Apply Mulch?
When installing organic mulches, hardwoods, pine nuggets, etc., apply the mulch to a depth of 3-4 inches.
3-4 inches is the total depth of mulch. Be sure to consider any older layers of mulch in your beds.
Don’t install the mulch against the trunks of your trees and stems of shrubs. Only install a light dusting near the trunks and stems of plants. Mulch piled up against the trunk and stems of plants can weaken the bark. The weakened bark can be an entry point for diseases and insects.
Spread the mulch evenly across your landscape beds, ensuring the trunks of trees and shrubs receive only a slight amount.
For inorganic mulches, such as stone or shredded rubber, first lay down a layer of landscape fabric or geotextile.
These products prevent the inorganic mulches from being pushed into the ground over time. They also make removing the inorganic mulch easier if you change your mind and want to use a different type of mulch.
When installing inorganic mulches, use the same principles used for organic mulches. The only thing that will change is the depth. The depth is determined by the type of inorganic mulch you choose.
How Much Mulch Do You Need?
Calculating how much mulch you need isn’t too tricky. Unlike most math problems, you don’t need to be 100% accurate. You only need to be close.
The three measurements you need are the length (L) of your planting bed, the width (W) of your planting bed, and the depth (D) of the mulch you are going to install.
L x W x D = the amount of mulch needed.
Most of the time, landscape beds aren’t perfect squares and rectangles. They are often curvy and come in many shapes. The different shapes is where being close with your calculation comes in.
If you have one bed or several beds, try breaking them down into small rectangles that are easier to measure. Then add up all of the smaller areas to get a total.
Mulch calculators are available online to help in determining the amount of mulch you need.
Mulching is one of the few things that transforms the look of your home or garden in a matter of a few hours. We have given you tips on choosing a mulch, calculating how much mulch you need, and the basics of installation. Now get outside and enjoy your landscape!
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Mulch Basics: Types, Amount, and Installation
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I have over 30 years of experience in the horticulture and landscaping field. Sharing my knowledge of all this plant-related is a passion of mine. I also enjoy spending time outdoors, whether hiking, canoeing, or sitting by a campfire.