You envisioned a beautifully landscaped area at your home, so you measured the space, drew up a geometrically pleasing plant layout design and purchased your plant material. After several hours of digging, planting, shoveling, back-filling and raking, your plants are finally in place and you stand back to admire your completed project.
But, wait a minute; you’re not quite finished; your bed still hasn't been made!
The final step, of course, is adding mulch.
Mulch is the magic ingredient that brings your painting to life and helps insure the long and continued healthy existence of your plants.
The addition of mulch serves three primary purposes in your landscape. The first, and probably most important, is the ability of mulching materials to help capture and retain moisture that will be utilized by your plants. Without mulch, any rainfall or water added by irrigation will quickly run off, leaving the soil compacted, dry, and possibly washed away from the plant roots. The porous nature of the mulching material allows the added moisture to enter the soil more slowly, where it can then be wicked to the plant roots over a longer period of time. The density of the mulch layer also prevents rapid evaporation caused by sunshine and surface winds.
A second function of mulch is the prevention and suppression of undesirable plants (weeds!) in your well-designed landscape. An appropriate thickness (3”-4”) of mulching material makes it difficult for seeds in the ground to germinate and push through the layer. Those sneaky little seeds that are blown onto the surface of the bed and do germinate will be easy to pull from the moist, porous, well-mulched garden.
The third function of mulch in the landscape is to contribute to the main purpose you probably had in mind in creating your garden in the first place. And that is aesthetics; you want your completed bed to look nice! Size and shape of particles, and color and type of mulching material selected are all considerations that come into play here.
A number of products are available in 2 or 3 cubic feet sized bags at your local garden centers. These are easy to handle and transport in your personal vehicle if only a small surface area in your landscape is to be covered. If larger areas are to be mulched, consider having a mulch supplier deliver several cubic yards of material in a dump truck to your site. Mulch purchased this way is also cheaper per cubic yard delivered.
Pine bark mini-nuggets are lightweight and long lasting, but they tend to dislocate (float away) in heavy rains; larger pine bark nuggets tend to become dislodged from the mulched area and become a nuisance in grassy areas. Some very dark colored mulches actually fade to a lighter brown color because of sunlight and moisture and, as a result, become less attractive. Overall, shredded hardwood bark makes a very desirable long-term mulch, breaking down slowly, staying in place, and exhibiting good moisture retention properties.
A word of caution in applying mulch; it is possible to get too much of a good thing!
Excessive amounts of mulch heaped around the base of trees and shrubs can create a haven for insects, allowing them to infiltrate into and cause damage to the bark of these plants. Three to four inches, with six inches maximum is plenty of mulch for most any application.
The best way to make your selection from the various mulching materials on the market is to visit your garden center and see what is available to best suit your needs. Then with just a few sweeping strokes of your magic wand (or is that a mulch fork?!), you can add the final touch to the masterpiece you have created in your landscape. Happy mulching!