With so many types of mulch available, it can be difficult to choose which one to use for your garden. Here’s what you need to know to pick the best mulch for your landscape.
When to Mulch
Every spring, check on the mulched areas of your garden and add more if the layer is starting to get thin. If you’re mulching a large area of your yard for the first time and not just touching up a few garden beds, you might want to look into getting a delivery from a bulk supplier. It’ll be less expensive than buying a ton of bags of mulch from your local garden center, and you won’t have to haul all of the bags to your yard either.
When late fall rolls around, check on your mulch again, and reapply if needed. In the winter, a good layer of mulch helps regulate the soil temperature. Make sure it’s already cold out if you’re adding mulch in the fall; once the ground has frozen a few times, you can add more mulch as a protective layer.
Types of Mulch For Your Garden
Not all mulch is exactly the same. Though shredded bark might come to mind first when you picture mulch, you can use other materials too, including straw and pebbles. Depending on your landscape and what you’re planting, each of these five choices can make wonderful mulch.
Shredded bark is one of the most common and least expensive types of mulch. It comes from a variety of sources, including cedar trees. Shredded bark is one of the best mulch types to use on slopes and it breaks down relatively slowly. Some shredded-bark products are byproducts from other industries and are considered environmentally friendly. Check the mulch packaging for more information.
Test Garden Tip: Shredded bark can take up some nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes. If you have poor soil, adding some organic fertilizer to the soil can help keep your plants healthy.
Straw mulch has a beautiful golden color that looks great in the garden. It’s also a bit slower to break down than leaves or grass clippings. Some gardeners like smaller, more shredded straw pieces while others prefer larger straws. Straw is classically used in more utilitarian gardens, such as vegetable gardens, and under strawberry plants. Straw does a great job of keeping mud out of your edibles.
Test Garden Tip: Make sure the straw is free of weed seeds, otherwise it can cause more weeds than it prevents. (Oat straw is often particularly weedy.)
Compost looks like soil, except it’s darker, so it really sets off plants well. This mulch material breaks down quickly but adds to your soil structure the fastest. Plus, it’s inexpensive; you can create your own rich compost for free, even from grass clippings and leaves. Many municipalities give away compost as well.
Pine or Cedar Bark Chips
These bark nuggets are slower to break down than shredded bark, but they don’t stay in place as well. They’re not the best type of mulch for slopes or other areas where they may be washed away by heavy rain; the chips tend to float and take off like boats. The nuggets are available in a variety of sizes; the bigger the nugget, the longer it lasts.
Stones and River Rock
Because they’re inorganic materials, stone and river rock don’t break down in the landscape, so they don’t need to be reapplied every year. However, it also means they don’t improve your soil over time. Take caution when using stone as a mulch, because stones tend to get really hot. Stones are often used in cactus and rock gardens. If you decide to use rocks and stones as a mulch, cover your soil first with sheer landscaping fabric. This will prevent weeds from growing.