Simply put, mulch is anything you put on top of the soil in a landscape. It can be organic which means it will break down over time. These types include bark mulch of all sizes, shredded wood in various sizes, plus assorted wood types and colors (more on that later), arborist wood chips, straw, pine needles, chopped leaves and grass clippings. Inorganic or inert mulches generally don't break down (in our lifetime) and include rock, gravel and most weed fabric (more on that too).
|New Mulch in our Landscape (almost done)|
There is one more mulch type - synthetic or plastic. Only one use in my book - for temporarily warming up vegetable beds or over tunnels as a cold frame.
What's the mulch point? The obvious is that organic mulches replicate what's going on out there in nature land. You know the whole cool web of life in the forest where trees drop their needles and leaves which then blend together and form a nice, natural protective layer for the soil. Underneath the layer the soil is kept moist while lots of nature's organisms and critters use the fallen organic manna for life, liberty and their happiness - that may be a stretch but you know where this is going.
It's a glorious circle - what drops to the ground is used to feed the tiny soil dwellers which is then used by the plant from whence the materials were dropped to nourish it until a freak lightening storm or time saps its life (pun intended). Is this happening in your own backyard? Sure, unless you're using carpet for mulch, the soil critters might not be too happy with circa 1960 lime green shag carpet.
Here's a list of more good outcomes from using mulch.
- Erosion control - keeps soil on slopes or flats from moving and blowing away.
- Conserves soil moisture and reduces surface evaporation.
- Acts as a plant root insulator for weather and temperature shifts, something we're very aware of here in Colorado.
- As an insulator it reduces plants with shallow roots from possible frost heaving.
- Reduces soil temperatures, a very good thing during hot, dry summers.
- As organic mulches break down it adds organic matter which improves soil quality.
- Keeps weeds down and much easier to pull from mulch...NOT mulch over weed fabric which only acts as a weed gripper. I'll just write it more LOUDLY - "weed fabric does not work long term." Soil (or dirt) eventually blows in over the mulch, then weed seeds blow in and find any spot suitable (which is everywhere) to put down roots. Years ago, soil fabric left the soil in our shrub border gray, lifeless and mostly on life support until I painstakingly removed it and started over. Read more on landscape fabric here.
- Keeps soil splash back from hitting lower foliage - soil may harbor disease, especially in vegetable beds. I use light layers of herbicide-free grass clippings all summer.
- Lastly, but certainly not the end of the list of positives, it gives the landscape a finished appearance, ties it all in and says "hey, I'm looking good and polished, got good flow and cohesion."
I often hear gardeners say that if enough plants are in the bed or border they shade the ground and each other's plant roots. That makes sense, but our newish landscape doesn't have scores of perennials anymore. Six years ago we chose to go with more shrubs, trees, patio rooms and open areas in the side-yard where we hang out with guests plus our four-legged friend Ferris, and his friends who come by to play. They need mulch for play, we need it for all the reasons bulleted above.
When I replace a plant or redo an area, I find the soil to be very cooperative and easy to dig. I believe the mulch in our yard is copying nature - works for our family!
|Dyed Mulch - Black|
Dyed mulch appears shiny and gritty when it is new out of the package, I wonder if it helps hold in soil moisture or actually repels water? I don't have the answers and have not queried or investigated bagged mulch, so these are just my opinions.
I plan on asking reputable landscapers and garden center owners the next few months what they know of dyed mulch. I'll do a follow up blog later in the summer. Our expert, experienced landscape contractor who just re-mulched our entire landscape said this about dyed mulch - "doesn't look right."
|Not a good red look|
Mulches for the Home Grounds
Mulching with Wood/Bark Chips, Grass Clippings and Rock
Mulches for the Vegetable Garden