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Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ – Mulch

Do you have an area where nothing will grow, an area of barren ground? A place that is hard to irrigate, mow or maintain? Consider mulching it.

One of the Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™, mulching offers an aesthetic that can boost curb appeal by highlighting landscape features and masking problem areas, but it also provides an array of benefits for you and the environment.

Mulch is effective at controlling or suppressing weeds, and helps to retain soil moisture, which reduces irrigation demand. Mulch also moderates soil temperature, improves soil fertility, prevents erosion, and decomposes to add organic matter to soil, thereby reducing fertilizer needs.

To gain those effects, though, you’ll need to apply your mulch properly. Typically, that means starting with a layer 4 inches thick, which will ultimately settle to 2-3 inches thick. Mulching too deeply can create “mats,” which can prevent water from reaching the root zone of plants.

Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™

Right Plant, Right Place – Enjoy healthier plants and reduce work by using plants suited to your landscape conditions
Water Efficiently – Reduce water bills, pest problems, and maintenance needs
Fertilize Appropriately – Prevent pollution and maximize plant health

MULCH – Keep moisture in the soil, help control weeds, and reduce stormwater runoff

Attract Wildlife – Bring your yard to life by providing water, food, and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other creatures
Manage Yard Pests Responsibly – Create an effective defense against pests while minimizing your impact on the environment
Recycle Yard Waste – Re-use your yard waste to save money and enrich your soil
Reduce Stormwater Runoff – Filter rain through your landscape to protect waterways and replenish the aquifer
Protect the Waterfront – Help preserve Florida’s waterways, plants, and wildlife

Also, never pile mulch against trees or around shrubs or plants, a practice known as “volcano mulching” for its sloped appearance (imagine a spewing volcano, and now think of a pile of mulch with a trunk shooting from its center). Piles of mulch can trap moisture, leading to rot or fungus. Always leave a clear area of 12-18 inches around tree trunks and several inches circling shrubs and smaller plants.

Now that you know the basics of how to apply mulch, you’ll want to know what mulch to use. Since each type has benefits and drawbacks, the mulch you choose largely will depend on your tastes, budget and needs.

Keep in mind when making your decision that gravel, pebbles and other non-organic mulches won’t decay to add organic matter or nutrients to the soil nor add nutrients, nor do they contribute to water holding capacity. And the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program does not recommend using cypress mulch, since old-growth trees have been (and may still be) used to create that product.

Other available mulches:

  • Pine bark: large, small and fine nuggets; rich, dark-brown color; durable.
  • Pine straw/needles: when knitted, resists erosion; durable when not on foot paths.
  • Fallen leaves: decays quickly, adding organic matter; reduces landfill waste.
  • Melaleuca mulch: heat-treated to kill seeds of invasive Melaleuca; resists termites; similar to cypress in look and durability.
  • Mixed hardwood mulch: byproduct of scrap lumber, pallets and paper/lumber scraps.
  • Eucalyptus mulch: fast-growing, sustainable resource often harvested from farms.
  • Utility mulch: trimmings from tree companies; may contain weed seeds, leaves, chunks.
  • Colored mulch: little research into effects of dyes used and breakdown components.

As you can see from just this small list, there is a wide range of options when it comes to mulch. If you want to know more about your choices, you might do well to read through “Landscape Mulches: What are the Choices in Florida?,” a University of Florida publication.

Whichever choice you make, mulch can help you make your landscape a little more beautiful, while keeping our environment healthy and strong.


Wilma Holley is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program specialist for Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability. She has worked for UF/IFAS Extension for more than a decade, and previously worked in nurseries and other landscaping-related operations. Contact her at wholley@scgov.net or 941-861-9900.

Contact your local Extension office to learn more:

One Comment on “Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ – Mulch

  1. I was surprised that you did not mention that cypress mulch should not be used due to the negative environmental impact on gulf coast communities.

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