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Mulch – Plants’ “Best Friend”

Mulch can be considered one of your plants’ “best friends.” Mulch provides many benefits to your soil and plants and helps provide protection from harsh outside conditions. There are many types of mulch that come from different trees and sources of organic matter. It is important to understand the proper usage of mulch to help yield the best results for your plants and landscape.

Benefits of Mulch

Mulch helps to protect plants’ roots from extreme heat and cold by creating a buffer between the soil and the air. Mulch also helps to hold water in the soil for longer, giving the soil time to absorb the water. This helps to avoid excessive watering of plants, which saves water and money. Mulch contains organic components, and the decomposition of these components adds nutrients to the soil. These nutrients benefit the soil aeration, structure, and drainage. The healthier soil helps lead to healthier plant growth.

Mulch can serve as a pathway or walkway in a yard or outdoor space. The benefits of mulch are better for your yard than stone pavers or cement for a pathway. In areas where it is difficult to mow or irrigate, mulch can be used as a groundcover that does not require much upkeep.

Using Mulch Wisely

It is important to maintain a 2-3-inch layer around trees, shrubs, and plant beds. If you let the mulch get too low, you risk exposure to erosion and damage to your plants. If you add too much mulch, the mulch can get in the way of water absorption from rain and irrigation. “Volcano mulching” occurs when mulch is piled too high against the base of a tree, causing moisture to become trapped and encouraging rot in the tree trunk. Mulch piled too high also allows small rodents the opportunity to create habitats; these rodents will then chew the bark of the tree and eventually kill the tree. It is important that the mulched area around a tree has at least an 8-foot diameter to provide cover and nutrients to root systems that extend beyond the drip line. Mulch should also be raked when it becomes matted. Matted mulch prevents water and air from seeping through to roots, and raked, fresh mulch has a nicer appearance. Finally, it is important to note that rock mulch should be used minimally in landscaping and reserved for pathways, dry creek beds, or under downspouts. Wood mulch gives so many benefits to your plants and landscaping, and pebble mulch does not give the same benefits.

Types of Mulch

There are many different types of mulch that come from different trees, organic sources, and inorganic sources. It is important to research and determine which type of mulch is best for your planting and landscaping purposes. It is also important to note which types of mulch are Florida Friendly.

Pine bark is a byproduct of the forest industry. It comes in ground and nugget forms and has a rich brown color.

Pine straw (needles) comes from pine plantations, which produce paper and wood products. Unlike some mulches, pine needles are not as likely to wash away because they knit together.

Fallen leaves (including grass clippings) can be raked up for free in your landscape. This type of mulch is high in nutrients but decomposes quickly.

Melaleuca mulch is made from the exotic invasive trees. The product is cured at a high temperature to kill the seeds, so they will not germinate in your garden.

Mixed hardwood mulch is produced from scrap lumber, recycled pallets, or tree stems too small for use in paper or wood production.

Eucalyptus mulch typically comes South and Central Florida, where the trees are grown specifically for this purpose. They grow quickly, so this mulch is considered renewable.

Utility mulch is sold or given away for free by many utility companies. This mulch comes from trimming trees and other plants that get in the way of power lines but be aware that it can come with weed seeds.

Cypress mulch is composed of both wood and bark. Cypress trees, which grow in Florida’s forested wetlands, are often harvested for lumber, and used in fencing, flooring, furniture, and other products. Cypress mulch is often made from the waste wood generated in the manufacture of these products, but it may also come from whole trees cut from wetlands. It is important to note that the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program does not recommend the use of cypress mulch due to its unknown origins.

Gravel or pebbles can be used as mulch, but they will not contribute to the soil’s nutrient content or water-holding capacity. If you use this type of mulch, make sure to first install a woven ground cloth to keep it from sinking into sandy soils. This mulch lasts a long time, but it will need to be cleared of debris to look its best.

Mulch is a visually appealing way to protect your plants from harsh weather conditions and allow for nutrients and moisture to be retained in soil. We hope we have given you the tools to properly add mulch to your landscape. When used correctly, mulch really can be your plants ‘best friend’!

Resources:

Mulch 101: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/pascoco/2018/10/26/mulch-101/
Mulch: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/planting/mulch.html
Mulch – Leave No Ground Uncovered: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/MulchBrochure.pdf
Florida Friendly Landscaping Mulch: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasotaco/2017/01/04/florida-friendly-landscaping-mulch/
Living Green: https://livinggreen.ifas.ufl.edu/landscaping/mulch.html
Keep It Covered with Mulch: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/leonco/2016/04/14/keep-it-covered-with-mulch/
Weed Cloth – to use or not to use:http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/nassauco/2017/07/16/q-husband-disagreeing-whether-add-weed-cloth-tree-shrub-beds-think /

This blog post was written by Mia Forsman, UF/IFAS Extension Intern. The summer internship program is a unique service learning opportunity and mentoring by professional educators while providing support to UF/IFAS Extension faculty and the communities they serve.