Mulch is a protective covering used on gardens and around the base of trees. It deters the growth of unwanted plants, such as weeds and grass, gives your garden a plush look, and keeps moisture in. Garden mulch also provides a blanket of protection guarding plants from the damage extreme weather conditions can bring.
Types of Mulch
There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic
Organic mulch is made from ingredients found in nature that once were alive. Organic mulch adds nutrition to the soil while it protects it from erosion. The many materials that it may be comprised of include: wood chips,wood bark, grass clippings, hay, peat moss and cocoa bean shells*.
*Dog Owners, Beware: Cocoa bean shells can be used as mulch and emit a delicious, chocolaty scent. It makes your yard smell oh-so good however, they are very dangerous for dogs. The cocoa smell is attractive to them and dogs will eat them. The ingredient found in chocolate that is very toxic for dogs to ingest, called “theobromine“, is also found in cocoa bean shells. For this reason, skip using them unless the gardens will be in a fenced, canine-free environment.
More about the dangers of cocoa bean shell mulch for dogs: ASPCA: Pet Poison Alert
Inorganic mulch is made of materials that were never alive such as a plastic, rubber or stones.
Mulching can be done at any time however, it is most often done in the springtime after the ground warms up or in the fall right before wintertime temperatures set in.
Here is a step-by-step of this simple process:
- Prepare the ground.Remove weeds from your garden area, carefully pulling out the whole root-system. If the ground is hard and dry, it may first be necessary to water the garden. Saturating the soil with water will make it much easier to remove the weeds by their roots.
- Insert plants. Your garden may have all the flowers and plants that you wish to include. If so, simply dig the ground in between them to promote good drainage and healthy growth. If you are adding new plants, dig the soil well in the location where each plant will go, –making a large, deep hole– insert the plants, and push the loosened soil back in the hole around them. Firmly press the soil in to keep the plant upright and steady.
- Gently throw heaps of mulch on the surface of the garden and around your plants. Leave the center part of the plant mulch-free. This will allow the plant to “breathe”. When mulch is too tightly pressed around the base of a plant or tree, it may develop rot or mold.
- Rake the mulch into place. Raking mulch will keep it even and looking fresh. Use your rake to smooth out the mulch. Generally, it should be 2 to 4 inches thick.
- Lightly sprinkle a garden fertilizer on the mulch. Use a brand that has both fertilizer for plant nutrition as well as a weed-control component. This will minimize the amount of weeding that you will have to do in the future. If you keep up with it, you will find that weeding a mulched garden is easy since the weeds don’t take deep root.
- Water the garden. When using colored mulch, wait a day or two before the first watering to protect its color from fading. Otherwise, you may water it immediately. Dampen your garden well enough for the moisture to get through the mulch and onto the dirt beneath.
Colored Mulch: dyed shredded wood mulch is very popular for landscaping. It is safe for humans and pets, very durable and holds its color longer than mulch that has not been dyed. Mulch comes in golden yellow, bright red, brown, black and even bright blue!
Tip: To keep your colored mulch looking fresh,
lightly rake it from time to time.
Playground Mulch: playgrounds get a lot of foot traffic. Mulch made from recycled rubber tires is often used for this purpose, as is a coarser engineered wood-fiber version.
There are varied opinions on the safety of using rubber as mulch on playgrounds. For more about safety: EPA Tested Rubber Mulch, Natures’ Way Resources “Rubber Mulch-Beware”
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