Mulching is not only a decorative garden practice, but a useful one as well. According to Aggie Horticulture, mulching protects roots "from heat, cold, or drought" and keeps fruit clean. Mulching is also a decorative gardening practice, using inorganic materials such as rocks and rock chip or plastic, or organic materials like sawdust, straw and bark to create an interesting, textured look on otherwise bare ground.
Erosion and Water Management
Apply a thick layer of mulch to sloping gardens to prevent soil erosion and conserve water. According to Aggie Horticulture, "a 4-inch layer of mulch on the soil surface... helps keep water from washing away soil particles." This conserves your topsoil and prevents rainstorms from removing freshly applied fertilizer before it can be used by the plants. Mulch also "dries much faster than the soil below it." Adding a layer of mulch channels water quickly to the soil, allowing it to soak in beneath the protective mulch layer, rather than evaporating while sitting on a bare soil surface.
Use mulch to regulate the soil's temperature. If you live in an area with harsh winters, cover the soil in your garden beds with clear plastic or black plastic or with dark-colored organic mulch in fall to create an insulating barrier over the soil to keep the roots of winter crops as warm as possible. Leave this mulch in place through early spring to warm the soil more quickly and allow earlier planting.
In the summer, keep the roots cool with light-colored mulch. Use newspaper, sawdust or straw to reflect as much sunlight back as possible, minimizing the damage wrought by summer heat waves.
Apply a layer of mulch to your potted plants to add a decorative touch and protect the soil. Add a layer of seaglass, pebbles, stones, seashells or any other small, decorative objects around your potted plants. Use the same materials you use in the plants to create narrow borders around your garden beds and place your potted plants near the beds. This will create a unifying decorative theme around your entire garden. Be sure to leave at least an inch without mulch around the plant stem or you may cause your potted plant to rot.
Shaded Picnic Spot
The areas under trees are often very difficult to plant because of the compacted earth, prominent roots and heavy shade. Give up on planting and create a picnic spot in the shade instead. Remove weeds from the area and flatten the ground. Mulch the ground with 2 to 4 inches of river rock, gravel or similar material. Add outdoor furniture such as rustic wooden benches, pic tonic tables and outdoor recliners beneath the tree. For a more decorative feel and more definition, surround the picnic spot with a second layer of mulch in a contrasting color.