It’s July and we all know what that means… Weeds, WEEDS and MORE #&$*#^#*$ WEEDS!!! I enjoy weeding about as much as I enjoy a paying $4.00 for a gallon of fuel. Anyway, weeds are showing their ugly faces in our garden beds like crazy. If we don’t take action, we could have a serious mess on our hands. The longer we wait, the more daunting of a chore mulching becomes. My workload as a professional landscaper only involves a few spring clean up/mulching jobs every year, but it’s one on my favorite things to do. In a matter of hours, we take a weedy, overgrown mess and turn it into a work of art! Mulching symbolizes to us that warm temperatures and sunny skies are just around the corner. My general rule of thumb is to have all spring clean ups complete and mulch applied by Mother’s Day. That’s usually the cut off date for annual weed crops to start to run wild in our gardens. What better time than to drop some knowledge on mulch…
Mulch has come a long way over the past few years. Walk in to any Home Improvement Store or Garden Center and you will see exactly what I mean. Let’s start with the basics… What is Mulch??? Mulch is a protective covering used in plant and vegetable gardening for the purpose of maintaining soil temperature, retaining moisture and keeping weeds from germinating. Mulch is considered anything that covers our planting areas with the intention of covering the soil. Today’s mulches come in a variety of materials and colors as well as a varying degree of coarseness. Most mulch is made by grinding up tree stumps, branches, bark, leaves and a variety of other materials. Newer varieties on the market can be made using any material from recycled tires to ground up pallets.
Mulch is sold in bags as well as in bulk(by the truckload whether picked up or delivered) and can be purchased at hardware stores, grocery stores, nurseries, landscape suppliers, stone yards and just about any place else. If you ever wondered what kind of machine is used to make mulch, click on the link below and watch this beast chew up scoops of tree stumps like its nothing
This particular operation, in the video, is creating triple shredded root mulch. The pile that is being fed into the hopper is a compilation of tree stumps, branches and roots. This machine, has several stages of grinders and chipping blades that feed the material into the blades then spit it out the other end as mulch. As rule of thumb, the finer the shreddings, the better the mulch. The better the mulch, the more you can expect to pay. More on that in a few paragraphs.
Bagged Mulch versus Bulk Mulch
One can expect to pay substantially more for mulch when buying by the bag. I estimate that the some homeowners pay as much as 300% more for bagged mulch than for bulk…INCLUDING THE DELIVERY CHARGE which ranges anywhere from $50 to $100.00!!! I do, however, understand that certain circumstances limit the use of bulk mulch. I recommend shopping around whenever possible. Most landscape suppliers and nurseries will let you look at their bulk mulches and often have samples in their office. Once you find a good mulch supplier, the chore of getting the mulch to your house is as easy as a phone call instead of loading a bunch of bags into a cart, loading them into your car, unloading them from the car, then chasing the empty bags around your property. For planning purposes, a yard of mulch(3’x3’x3′ or 27 cubic feet) will cover a 100 square foot area with a 2 inch layer(my recommended depth). When buying in bulk, always order more than you need. It’s much easier to have a little left over than it is to come up short. Trust me on that one!
Let’s break mulch down by the most common varieties…
Coarse Mulch, Bark Mulch, Root Mulch, Colored Mulch and Miscellaneous Mulch.
Pictured above, course mulch is primarily comprised of larger wood chips(2″-6″). Coarse mulch is frequently used in areas where appearance takes a back seat to keeping soil temperatures under control or keeping weeds down. The most common source for coarse mulch are tree removal companies. These companies grind up everything from brances to entire trees. Most tree companies are happy to give truck loads of coarse mulch away and some companies even deliver trucks loads for free! Coarse mulch effectively covers the ground but the larger chunks can take years to break down. If you need to cover the forest floor on a portion of your property, coarse mulch is the way to go. If you want a professional, manicured look, don’t use it in your every day planting areas. Keep reading for my personal favorite… Bark Mulch
One of the more common mulches across the country. Bark mulch is created using bark, obviously, that is stripped from trees during foresting. Common varieties include Cypress, Cedar and Pine Bark. Bark mulch varieties can be hard to find in different parts of the country based on local availability. Of the bark mulches I prefer Cedar for it’s aroma as well it’s natural trait of deterring insects. Pine bark is my least favorite because we used it frequently as kids and I hated mulching! Bark mulches come in a variety of sizes and can be difficult to find in bulk quantities. Root Mulch
Root mulch is the most popular mulch on the market today. Root Mulch comes from… you guessed it, Roots! The exact tree roots that are used depends primarily on where you live. Root mulch is a personal favorite of my for 2 reasons. Reason 1- love the smell, reason 2- brimming with organic matter. A true sign of root mulch is watching multiple yards rolling out of the back of a tri-axle dump truck with the piercing aroma of licorice roots and watching the steam. The steam signals that the mulch is still “cooking”. That’s my garden word for composting. Fresh mulch is warm to the touch because the bacteria are still working their little tails of to break down all that material and turn it into humus. This abundance of organic material adds nutrients to the soil and conditions your planting areas for years of continued success. Root mulch comes in a variety of courses. Ranging from Coarse to Triple Shredded, the finer the mulch, the more one can expect to pay. Expect to pay anywhere from $15.00 to $40.00 per yard when buying bulk and up to $5.00 per bag.
Not a big fan!
Not a day goes by, in my little landscaping world, that doesn’t involve a debate about Colored Mulch! Some argue that Black Mulch keeps its color longer. That’s true and I will never argue that issue. My issue with colored mulch is where the wood comes from….
Not tree bark, not freshly cut trees and definitely not roots. Colored mulch comes from ground up pallets dyed the color of choice. I’m not expert… wait a second… actually I am an expert, but there is nothing beneficial to lawn or garden soil in ground up pallets and dye. Pallets are always either painted or made from treated lumber and the last time I checked, dye is not a nutrient of choice for thriving soil.
Black is by far the most popular but Red is a close second. I have seen a variety of different colors out there including green…. Green????
This category covers the last few products that people use for mulch. I won’t go into great detail but will list the ones that I am familiar with…
Stone– Any size, any color, any shape. The drawback to stone is the fact that it holds a lot of heat which can add stress to plants. It’s also very difficult to keep clean around plants. Rubber Mulch- made from ground up tires dyed to the color of choice, not on my job!
Glass– shards of colored glass tumbled to reduce the sharp edges. a little eclectic for my taste, but why not!
Pine Needles– Very common and abundant in the south. It’s cheap and easy. A little choppy looking for my taste.
A few final notes -Your best bet, and my personal favorite, is triple shredded root mulch. This mulch is readily available, smells great, is easy to handle, keeps soil conditions consistent and breaks down rapidly adding organic matter to your soil. -Never pile new mulch on top of old(common with colored mulch because of it’s inability to break down). If the previous years mulch did not completely break down into the soil, ALWAYS rake up the old mulch and put it in the compost pile. Piling mulch on top of mulch keeps water from making its way to the roots, causes mold and fungus and suffocates the roots of plants(read more in my blog post on Mulch Volcanos). -When applying new mulch, only use a 2 inch layer. More than that can stop the flow of oxygen and keep water from leeching through. There you have it. The basics about mulch. If you have any questions of comments, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share this information in any way that you see fit. As a reminder, Lundholm Landscaping is Cape May’s premier design and build landscaping firm specializing in Extreme Landscape Makeovers! If you would like to receive these blog directly in your inbox, subscribe in the box at the top of this article. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your comments.
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