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Everything you always wanted to know about mulch… but were afraid to ask

The birds are chirping, the sun is shining and Midwesterners are emerging from their winter hibernation. Spring is in the air. You know what that means – it’s mulch season!

When to mulch

The ideal time to mulch is mid- to late spring, just before your perennials pop up. If you start too early, the soil won’t have a chance to warm, and your plants will be slow to germinate and emerge. If you start too late, you will have to navigate around delicate plants to pull those pesky weeds.

Mulching at least once a year is recommended to replace decomposed or eroded mulch. For extra protection against moisture loss and temperature fluctuation, also consider laying supplemental mulch throughout the summer and in late fall, before the cold winter months arrive.

Benefits of mulch

Mulching is one of the most important things you can do for your bare soil. The benefits are numerous:

  • Invasion barrier: Mulch helps you reduce yard maintenance by suppressing weed growth and deterring the spread of plant disease.
  • Moisture retention: The wind and sun zap moisture, leading to root dryness and plant death. Minimizing evaporation means less watering during the summer months.
  • Soil nutrition: Organic matter is added to the earth when plant-based mulches decompose, which improves the soil’s water and nutrient holding capacity, structure and drainage.
  • Temperature control: Keep soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Extreme heat, frost, and drought can injure roots and kill plants.
  • Root protection: A protective layer of mulch can reduce injury from maintenance and discourage competing root systems from fighting over water and nutrients.
  • Erosion deterrent: Rain, sprinkler droplets and the wind erode bare soil. Mulch provides a “sponge” surface that absorbs water and slows runoff.
  • Decorative appeal: Mulches come in a variety of colors, sizes, and materials that add to your home’s curb appeal.

Types of mulch

Mulch falls into two general categories – organic and inorganic. Deciding which type to use is a matter of preference and function.

Organic mulch: These is plant-based material that decomposes naturally and adds nutrients to the soil. We typically recommend wood or bark mulches, as they are aesthetically pleasing and last longer than recycled varieties like leaves, pine needles and grass clippings. If using yard waste, be sure that it’s herbicide and pesticide free.

Inorganic mulch: This type of mulch is derived from synthetic or natural non-living materials, such as landscape fabric, rubber tires, gravel and stone. They are durable and suppress weeds, but don’t add nutrients to the soil.

Get to work

When it comes to mulching, you can consult and hire a landscaping professional or do it yourself by following these steps:

Planning: Arm yourself with a wheel barrow, metal rake, leaf rake and a flat-faced shovel. Calculate the amount of mulch you need. For every 325 square feet (about the size of two parking spaces), you’ll need one cubic yard of mulch for an inch of cover. There are handy calculators available online to help you estimate how much mulch you need. Last, be wary of free mulch because it can contain weed seeds and invasive plants.

Area preparation: Remove weeds, debris and old growth. Break up existing mulch with your rake and remove the excess. Use this opportunity to re-edge your garden beds; that prevents grass from encroaching on the area.

Installation: Fill up your wheel barrow with mulch and dump small piles of it throughout the bed. Spread the mulch so it is about 3 to 4 inches thick, including the pre-existing layers. Always install a top dressing of fresh mulch about 1.5 inches thick. As mentioned, you may need to remove some of the old mulch, so not to exceed a total thickness of 3 to 4 inches. Leave about 1 to 2 inches breathing room at the stem or base of plants. Finally, sprinkle a weed prevention product to minimize weed growth throughout the season.

Now is the time

Mulching might seem like a grueling chore in the spring, but it is the biggest favor you can give yourself and your planting beds. La Rosa Landscape Company is here to help with all projects, big or small. Start planning for mulch season now!