Mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of the soil Reasons for applying mulch include conservation of soil moisture, improving fertility and health of the soil, reducing weed growth, and enhancing the visual appeal of the area. A mulch is usually, but not exclusively, organic in nature. It may be permanent (e.g. plastic sheeting) or temporary. It may be applied to bare soil or around existing plants.

What is Organic Mulch?

Organic mulches include formerly living materials such as chopped leaves, straw, grass clippings, compost, wood chips, shredded bark, sawdust, pine needles, and even paper. Both types of mulch discourage weeds, but organic mulches also improve the soil as they decompose. With organic mulch, you may find the benefits of your plants receiving plenty of nutrients outweigh the cost of replacement mulch. If so, then opting for an organic mulch is the best choice for you. Ensure your organic mulch is chemical-free and seed-free for the best result.

What is Inorganic Mulch?

Inorganic mulches include plastic sheeting, rocks, rubber chips, or non-woven geotextiles. Mulch provides many benefits. All mulches reduce weeds and help retain soil moisture. They control weeds by preventing them from receiving the sunlight needed for growth. Disadvantages of inorganic mulches are they do not return nutrients into the soil, and stone mulches can settle deep into the ground. Stones buried in the soil will make any future planting a digging challenge.

Best Organic Mulch Materials

  • Bark – Bark Mulch is made out of tree bark shredded into fine, medium, and large pieces for top dressing your beds. Use 2 to 3 inches around trees and shrubs. Keep bark a few inches away from the base of a tree trunk to prevent rot or rodent damage. Bark decomposes slowly and can attract carpenter ants. Shredded bark is effective at suppressing weeds and is one of the top mulch types to use on slopes. Shredded bark will take the nitrogen’s soil when decomposing. So add fertilizer to help keep your plants healthy.
  • Wood Chips – Wood chip mulch, which consists of pieces of ground-up wood or bark, proves especially useful with trees, shrubs, perennials, and small fruiting species. It increases survival percentages in small trees and helps prevent damage to such plants in areas with heavy rainfalls. Wood chips the same as the bark mulch will take the nitrogen out of the soil so add fertilizer. Apply 1 to 3 inches of wood chip around the trees, shrubs, or perennial gardens. When applying around trees and shrubs, do not mulch against the trunk.
  • Sawdust – Sawdust mulch is a carbon-rich organic material that needs certain microorganisms to aid in its decomposition process. These microorganisms tend to rob the existing soil of nitrogen. Sawdust will often cake, making it difficult for water to penetrate the soil. Use aged sawdust to help prevent nitrogen deficiency in the soil. Sawdust works best in the soil around acid-loving plants such as rhododendron, magnolia, and blueberries.
  • Straw – Straw makes an excellent winter mulch and mulch for the vegetable garden. Place the straw in a 3- to 6-inch (7.5-15 cm.) layer in between the rows and between the plants in each row. If you’re growing a square-foot garden, keep the straw to the center aisles between each garden block. Keep the straw away from the leaves and stems of the plants, as it may spread the fungus to your garden crops. Be sure and use straw no hay. Keep in mind that straw is highly flammable.
  • Pine Needles – Pine needles, also known as pine straw, make fine mulch for some flower beds. They are light and fluffy, so spreading them around is a piece of cake, and they don’t compact much as they decompose, so you don’t have to worry about them becoming too thick or forming a rain-impervious mat. Pine needles make excellent mulch for slopes, annual and perennial gardens, shrubs, and acid-loving trees.
  • Leaves – Fallen leaves are great for using as natural mulch. Not only will using them save you money from buying mulch, but they will also help to enrich your soil, lock in moisture, and protect your plants from cold temperatures. Homeowners can also compost leaves to create a compost mulch.
  • Compost – Compost is made by decomposing organic materials into simpler organic and inorganic compounds in a process called composting. This process recycles various organic materials otherwise regarded as waste products. Good compost is rich in plant nutrients and beneficial organisms. Compost is a nutritious mulch for vegetable gardens, trees, shrubs, and flower beds.
  • Grass Clippings – Grass clippings are a good mulch option with a few conditions: Do not apply more than 1 or 2 inches of grass clippings at one time. Use dry clippings. Wet grass clippings can mat down, reducing reduce oxygen and moisture from getting down into the soil. Do not mulch with grass clippings that you have treated with herbicides.

Best Inorganic Mulch Materials

  • Black Plastic – Black plastic mulch might get too hot in warm climates, scorching the plants-so gardeners in southern climes keep this in mind. 2. Moisture: Black plastic mulch can reduce soil evaporation by up to 70 percent. … Weeds: One of the best things about using black plastic mulch is that it cuts weed growth down enormously. Black plastic worked best as a mulch in vegetable gardens where irrigation systems are under the plastic. Avoid using black plastic around shrubs, as this mulch can harm shrubs long term health.
  • Landscape Fabrics – Landscape fabric is a textile material used to control weeds by inhibiting their exposure to sunlight. The fabric is normally placed around desirable plants, covering areas where another growth is unwanted. The fabric itself can be made from synthetic or organic materials, sometimes from recycled sources. Landscape fabrics work best as mulch around trees and shrubs. Fabrics will not work well in the vegetable gardens and flower beds because digging in your garden and bed will damage the fabric and make it ineffective. i
  • Stone and Lava Rock – Lava rock are unique stones that are rough and porous, which enables them to quickly absorb and retain both moisture and heat. This is good for two reasons. … One of the benefits that lava rocks provide over mulch is that they don’t decompose, which means that they don’t need to be replaced every year. Stone mulch is often recognized as equal to traditional mulch in its ability to regulate moisture and temperature levels in the soil. What makes crushed stone especially advantageous, however, it doesn’t rot, decay or decompose. Do not use this mulch near acid-loving plants. Avoid applying it to areas where you plan to dig. Pebbles and rock work well as a layer atop fabric mulches and where permanence is desirable such as driveways, walkways, and foundation plants.

If you are tackling a major home project such as planting trees and shrubs around a pool or putting in native plants and flowers in your front yard, a professional can offer expert advice and make the whole job easier.

Contact us (859-640-0657) for a free consultation!

About Presentable Landscaping

Presentable Landscaping provides many landscaping services to our customers in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati.

  • Clean ups
  • Pruning / Trimming
  • Paver Patios
  • Mulching
  • Retaining Walls
  • Drainage
  • Leaf Removal
  • Gutter Cleaning