For Gardens That Bloom Without Weeds or Distress, Mulch is the Answer

Mulch suppresses weed growth by depriving weeds of the sunlight they need to germinate. As a result, desirable plants have less competition for the available resources required for optimal growth and vitality.

Published April 26, 2024 1:48 AM
3 min read

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Psst, Want the secret to Lush Landscapes?

Mulch is the answer. It retains moisture and prevents drought stress while acting as a natural moisture reservoir for all your plants, from annuals to large trees. By covering the soil surface, mulch reduces irrigation frequency. During dry spells or droughts, mulch provides consistent moisture to plant roots. Extreme temperatures harm roots and impede nutrient absorption. Mulching plays a vital role in regulating soil temperature by acting as a protective barrier.

Mulch suppresses weed growth by depriving weeds of the sunlight they need to germinate. As a result, desirable plants have less competition for the available resources required for optimal growth and vitality. Mulch adds to soil health and fertility by enriching soil with valuable nutrients. Also, it promotes a friable soil that encourages root development. Mulch prevents soil erosion by acting as a protective layer against heavy rain and high winds. Plus, a good layer of mulch will reduce weed pulling from perpetual to easier and less often.

FREE! Now that I have your attention, immediately stop reading and call your landscaper. Tell him to cease and desist maniacally denuding your gardens of overwintering organic debris. It is a major source of plant nutrients, natural mulch, and is a breeding zone for earthworms and beneficial insects.

If someone must remove it, wait ’til dandelions bloom and daytime temperatures reach into the 50s with regularity. That’s when pollinators and other insects come out of hibernation to restock stores and prepare for the next generation. Save a few nickels on your landscape carting bill and reduce the high carbon footprint impact of noisy leaf blowers. Rake leftover organic matter to woodsy areas or a distant corner. Later in the season you will have compost to use.

Some mulch varieties:
Wood chips: 
Fresh from an arborist’s chipper. They take a while to decompose, but often can be obtained for free. Some book learnin’ folks say you should sprinkle lime on the ground before spreading, as fresh chips are acidic and take up nutrients before they start decaying. While there may be transient changes in pH within the mulch layer itself, there is no evidence that this has any impact on the underlying soil.

There is little evidence that fresh chips create any issue with nutrient deficiency. While there may be a small zone of nutrient uptake at the interface between the mulch and soil layers, this will have a negligible impact on well-established plants rooted below this zone. As a precaution, it is prudent to avoid woody mulches on annual beds and around soft fruit or on vegetable beds where plants may be shallow rooted. There is no need to apply additional fertilizer before mulching. In fact, as woody mulches break down, they release nutrients, thus increasing long-term soil fertility. Wow, TMI?

Bark mulch: Made from tree bark is durable and available in varied sizes and colors. I’m a traditionalist and stick with natu- ral color. However, mulch is available in stained colors like red, black, and faux brown that look artificial. Or there are always white marble chips which compliment plastic plants ever so well.

Pine straw needles: Commonly used for acidic loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. When needles fall, rake them up and reuse them around evergreens.

Cocoa hulls: Expensive and charming, especially on formal parterres and under dwarf box- woods. It is fragrant when first applied, but tends to clump and get moldy. Avoid unless you just must have.

Inorganic: Gravel and stone mulches are ideal for weed suppression and used in arid areas. They also have the benefit of lasting a long time.

Ground cover plants: Aggressive low-growing plants function as living mulch, covering the soil and suppressing weed growth.

Straw: In vegetable gardens to retain moisture. Never use hay, as it is loaded with seed.

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