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Mulch Your Way to Better Landscape Design (page 1 of 2)

Mulch your way to prettier, healthier plantings. Learn which type of mulch to use, when to use it and where to use it.

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One of gardening’s secret weapons is mulch. It’s not a glamorous starlet that steals the spotlight, but its performance can make or break a landscape design. Whether you’re grooming a fabulous front yard or raising your family’s favorite veggies in the backyard, mulch can make each planting area healthy, earth-friendly and beautiful.

Why Use Mulch

How does mulch benefit the landscape?

  • It suppresses weeds and makes weeds that do sprout easier to pull.
  • It slows water evaporation from soil, so you don’t have to water as often.
  • It insulates soil against temperature extremes. This protects shallow-rooted plants in cold regions and coddles crops as summer sizzles.
  • It prevents soil compaction during downpours. Loose, uncompacted soil yields happy, healthy plant roots.
  • It slows storm water runoff and helps reduce soil erosion. Less runoff means planting beds are absorbing more rain.
  • It prevents disease organisms from splashing from soil to plant leaves, which reduces disease outbreaks.
  • It gives planting beds a polished look, enhancing even the most basic landscape design.

Types of Mulch

Mulch falls into two general categories: organic and inorganic. Both types contribute good looks to a garden design.

  • Organic materials include things like shredded bark, pine straw, compost or grass clippings. These materials break down over time, adding organic matter to soil and improving it.
  • Inorganic mulches are more permanent and don’t readily degrade. Stone, weed fabric, rubber or geotextile mats are types of inorganic mulches.

How to Mulch

Step 1: Thickness
Apply a 2- to 3-inch-thick mulch layer. If you’re gardening in slow-draining soil, use a thinner layer (1 to 2 inches); for fast-draining soils like sand, aim for 4 inches. A too-thick layer can lead to plant rot, diseases, pests and rodents.

Step 2: Placement
Extend mulch beyond the plant’s drip line — the point where the outermost edge of leaves occurs. To prevent rot, pull mulch back 2 to 4 inches from perennial crowns, shrub stems and tree trunks.

Step 3: Water
Water mulch after application. This keeps dry mulch from absorbing soil moisture (and stealing it from plant roots). Second, it helps anchor lightweight mulches easily carried by wind.

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