Mulch is Magic
Close your eyes. Picture your ideal landscape. For me, a cottage garden full of native Florida wildflowers, edible plants and herbs and a wild backyard with food for birds and trails leading to secluded statues and a place of sublime contemplation near a rainbow eucalyptus dripping with windchimes. For you, maybe a landscape to grace the cover of ‘Lawn and Garden’ magazine with neat rows of the hottest new landscape cultivars. Now, imagine a substance with the power to reduce the amount of time, water and fertilizer needed for your happy healthy plants, while enhancing the beauty and curb appeal of your landscape. A substance of minimal cost, sourced from a waste product and readily available throughout the state. Something which, when applied properly builds not only the health of your plants but also the soil. This is not some mystical time-saving snake oil, the substance is mulch.
Benefits of mulch
Mulch is not a panacea, but the following benefits are good reasons to give mulch a prominent place in your landscape.
- Soil Moisture: Mulch reduces evaporation, which in turn leaves more water in the soil, in a prime location for plant roots.
- Temperature: Mulch shades the soil, helping to protect fine feeder roots that occupy the first few inches of soil. Like a blanket, mulch will protect those roots from sudden swings in temperature, lowering the risk of plant stress.
- Organic matter: As micro-organisms and fungus decompose the mulch, organic matter and nutrients are returned to the soil for use by your plants.
- Weed control: In the correct thickness (3-4 inches) mulch will prevent weed seeds from germinating, thus leading to fewer weeds for you to pull.
- Hard to grow areas/shady or high traffic: For those hard to grow areas, like under your oak tree, mulch is the best option to prevent soil erosion.
- Protection from lawn equipment: Mulch acts as an invisible fence, protecting trees and shrubs from damage by lawn mowers and weed trimmers.
- Instant beautification: Just like that silk scarf, or the right pair of shoes, mulch will ‘finish’ your landscape, giving it a clean and dressed appearance.
So, I’ve convinced you that mulch is basically magic, now which one should you use? Just with plants, you want to use the right mulch in the right place. Below are some suggestions to follow when you go on your next nursery run.
- Organic: Meaning not rubber or rock, you want your mulch to breakdown and give those good nutrients to the soil over time. Some areas of heavy traffic like pathways, may need gravel or shell to stand the test of time.
- Not Dyed or Chemically Treated: Dyed mulches are often made from recycled wood debris that may contain pallets and possibly pressure treated materials. These mulches will also decompose more slowly which can impact the nitrogen availability in the soil.
- Hardwood or Pine Bark: Try to avoid mulch of unknown origins, such as free municipal mulch, only because you never know what might have run through the chipper (I found a doormat once). Pine bark is a great addition to a landscape, particularly if you have plants like gardenias that like a bit of acid. Tip: Use pine straw for the first few inches and then finish with a more expensive mulch, pine straw is good, but breaks down quickly.
- From invasive Melaleuca trees is best: There are several brands now available that sell mulch made from invasive Melaleuca trees, this is a great option since it makes use of and provides incentive for the removal of invasive trees.
For more information check out this article from UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions