A: This is one of the more popular inquiries we receive from landscapers and homeowners in our plant clinics. To answer this question, we typically recommend an organic mulch as it breaks down over time and enriches the soil. Examples of this include pine straw, pine bark, melaleuca chips, and other wood and leaf mulches. We do not recommend using cypress mulch since this is an important wetland plant that needs to be conserved.
Suggested Mulch Materials
- Pine bark nuggets
- Pine straw
- Oak leaves
- Mixed hardwood mulch
When selecting a mulch product consider the uses of the area and the plants grown in the landscape. For example, in Discovery Gardens we use medium to fine pine bark nuggets for most of our landscape beds. It serves as a good all-purpose mulch, lasts for two to three years, and will enrich the soil as it breaks down.
In contrast, we use baled pine straw in our camellia and azalea gardens because these plants prefer more acidity than most general landscape plants. We also use pine straw in our smaller gardens like the rose garden and native plant walk. Pine straw breaks down quickly and helps add organic matter to the soil. The fast breakdown of pine straw means it needs to be reapplied every six months to once a year for aesthetics.
In walkways we use utility mulch, which is a mix of various hardwood trees. This mulch is inexpensive, and you may be able to get it free from tree trimming companies serving the area. When you see tree trimming performed in your neighborhood, write down the name of the company located on the side of the truck, look up their local number, and give them a call. They may be able to deliver a load directly to you or visit ChipDrop, an app that organizes wood chip delivery from tree companies. Ask for hardwood chips only, you do not want invasive trees, shrubs, or vines included in your wood chips.
In my own yard I recycle what I have onsite as much as possible. I use oak leaves in the landscape beds around my oaks, cypress needles in the bed around my cypress tree, and in my front yard I purchase large pine bark nuggets.
Rubber and Rock
Inorganic mulches such as rubber and rock should be considered carefully. They do not breakdown over time which can serve as an advantage, but they do not improve the quality of the soil. Rock mulches work well in utility areas and Japanese style gardens, while rubber mulches are frequently used on playgrounds.
How to Apply
No matter which mulch you select, apply a three-inch layer throughout the landscape bed and out to the drip line of newly planted trees. Be careful not to pile mulch around the base of tree trunks as this can cause a slow decline in health and possibly death of the tree. Before installing a new bed of mulch, smother weeds first by laying sheets of newspaper down and wetting with water or treat existing weeds or turf with two herbicide applications scheduled about two weeks apart.
Our local Extension Office frequently encounters questions about landscaping mulch. Many landscapers and homeowners contact us wanting to know the best mulch for central Florida yards. While there is not a perfect mulch to recommend, there are several mulches available to find the right choice for your home landscape needs.