Much ado about mulch

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May 27, 2014
Have you mulched this spring? Do you plan to?

Mulch, by definition, is a layer of bark, sphagnum peat moss, muck peat, compost, pine needles, gravel, plastic, or any similar material uniformly spread on the surface of the soil under plants.

Two valuable benefits of mulching include suppressing weeds and conserving moisture.

Mulch can also serve several other purposes. Mulching helps moderate the temperature of the soil, it can add organic material if mulching materials are organic, it can reduce soil erosion on slopes, and it often improves curb appeal adding to a property’s value.

Before you hop in your car and head to the store, or gas up your truck if you opt to purchase mulch in bulk, Ohioline, Ohio State Extension’s home gardening website, offers a few mulching pointers.

Organic or inorganic?
Organic mulches, derived from plant material, will decompose in time and enrich and improve the soil. Wood chips, bark, pine needles, straw, leaves, or grass clippings are all organic mulches. Inorganic mulches, such as rocks or pebbles, plastic, landscape fabric, or shredded rubber products, will not decompose.

When to apply?
Now is good. In mid to late spring, the soil has warmed and begun to dry out from winter snow and rain. Mulching too early can delay drying of the soil and inhibit root growth. In the fall, mulch after the first frost. A fall mulching will slow the freezing and thawing cycle which often lifts roots out of the soil causing damage.

How deep?
The recommended depth for most mulches is two to three inches. This depth will conserve moisture, reduce weeds, and stabilize temperatures. Lesser amounts may not accomplish these goals. Greater amounts can lead to serious landscape problems. Heavy mulching will not allow the soil to dry out and water-logged soils promote disease.

Warning: No mulch volcanoes.
Avoid mulching too close to stems or trunks. If you pile any kind of mulch up against the stem or trunk, you will rot the plant out and it will die. Keep mulch six to twelve inches from the base of trees and woody shrubs and several inches from the stems of annuals and perennials. Give the plants some breathing room.

Bags or bulk?
It’s up to you. Calculate costs and consider convenience. A cubic yard of mulch is twenty-seven cubic feet. Most bags contain two cubic feet. Will you need to add in a delivery charge for bulk orders? Do you have a place to dump the mulch? Who can you get to help?

How much?
Measure your garden beds and estimate the size of the area you want to cover. Read the package label. The label on a two-cubic foot bag of hardwood mulch sitting in our driveway will cover 12 square feet to a depth of two inches. Estimate the total amount necessary to complete the job.

Mulching is work and money. Take some time to determine just what is right for your yard.