Selecting the appropriate type of mulch not only adds a finishing touch to a garden or path, it also controls weeds, regulates soil temperature and helps maintain the condition of the soil.
Mulch varieties consist of pine straw, grass clippings and leaves, the outer layer of bark removed and processed into shredded mulch and wood chips.
Pine straw and mulch placed around flowers, trees or vegetables help retain moisture in the soil needed for healthy root growth. A solid covering of mulch insulates the soil and prevents erosion by keeping the soil in place.
Mulch may be processed and sold as a premium grade covering containing only all natural wood and bark products. Less expensive brands may be blended with bits of wood products, such as recycled pallets, used as a filler.
Size and Color
Shredded and chipped mulch comes pre-packaged and in bulk in its natural wood color or a choice of colors using a non-toxic dye. Pine straw in its natural state is light brown and bundled in bales of varying weight.
Pine straw and organic mulch breaking down over time adds nutrients and keeps the soil pliant. Mulch provides good air circulation and allows easy saturation of water. Pine straw has a higher acidic level than wood mulch making it a good choice for plants and vegetables requiring acidic soil.
Measure the length and width of your landscape area in feet and write down these measurements. Multiply the measurements together to determine the square footage of your landscaping area.
Decide whether you want to apply the pine straw in a 3-inch layer or a 2-inch layer. A 3-inch layer of pine mulch is optimal when gardeners are applying pine mulch for the first time to a landscape area.
Purchase one bale of pine straw for every 100 square feet of landscape area to apply the pine straw in a 2-inch layer. Purchase one bale of pine straw for every 50 square feet of landscape area to apply the pine straw in a 3-inch layer. The latter application recommendation is thicker because the pine straw will settle appreciably, especially in the initial application.
Wait to mulch until the soil is at least 60 degrees F. If you mulch too early, you may trap cool soil temperatures around the tomato plants and delay plant development.
Provide a deep watering for the tomato plants or apply the mulch immediately after a heavy rainstorm. This will ensure that the soil is full of moisture.
Lay down 2 or more inches of pine straw around each tomato plant. Do not allow the pine straw to touch the stems of the tomato plants.
Reapply the pine straw throughout the season to keep it at least 2 inches deep.
Functions of Mulch
Mulch provides protection for roots from the heat or cold temperatures, prevents evaporation of moisture from the soil and decays and enriches the soil itself. When mulch is used in the garden, less fertilizer is required due to the breakdown of mulch components, which act as nutrients.
Functions of Pine Straw
Pine straw can be used as a mulch. It is low acid, which means it can be used in any type of garden setting. Pine straw functions best when used in combination with other organic material.
Mulch is better for keeping a garden weed free. Pine straw alone has a tendency to attract rodents, especially in the winter months. Mulch is more attractive than pine straw and lasts longer than pine straw. Mulch lasts a good year, whereas pine straw only lasts up to six months.
Mow or trim the grass as low as possible. Don’t rake the clippings away. They’ll contribute to the natural decomposition process and enrich the soil. Soak the area deeply with water.
Top the area with a single layer of cardboard, overlapping edges where necessary to cover the ground. Drench the cardboard with water. Add another layer of cardboard and soak it well. Repeat until you have a 1-inch-thick pile of wet cardboard.
Pack a layer of straw over the cardboard 2 to 5 inches thick. Wet it thoroughly.
Top the straw with another ½- to 1-inch-thick pile of wet cardboard. This will help to hold everything in place for the next 4 to 8 weeks, as the pile smothers and kills the grass underneath.
Cultivate the decomposed grass, cardboard and straw into the soil below.
Remove the straw tip and cap from the can. Place the end of the straw tip over an open flame until the plastic melts and closes the tip off to seal it.
Place the straw on a flat surface and place the tip of the blade as close as possible to the sealed end of the straw. Apply pressure from the top of the straw until the blade punctures through to the other side. Drag the blade 1/4 inch down the straw to make the incision a bit longer.
Turn the straw on its side so that the incision previously made is now parallel to the surface. Repeat the incision from the previous step to create the last two incisions. Drag the blade through a small amount to create a wider vent.
Replace the cap with the straw tip attached to it on the aerosol can. Test the fogger by depressing the aerosol cap. There should be four separate streams of aerosol coming out.
Rake up the pine straw. Use the rake to scoop up pine straw and dump it into the baler. Fill the baler with straw, pushing down on it with your hands as you fill it.
Pull the plunger over towards you and press on the lever to compress the straw. Move the plunger up and down three times to compress the straw as much as possible. Push the plunger back overhead.
Locate the strings that hang on the back of the baler at the top. They are usually on nails. Pull them off and drop push them through the slits in the front of the baler.
Pull the second string up from the bottom and side of the baler through the loops you pulled through the front of the door. Do this on both sides. Pull the bottom string down to tighten the loop over the bale. Repeat for both sides.
Pull the plunger back towards you and push the lever as close to the ground as you can. Straddle the lever and use your body weight to compress the bale. While pressing on the bale, tie both loose strings into a knot and cut off the excess with your scissors. Release the plunger slowly and carefully.
Undo the latch holding the baler door closed and open the door. LIft the bale up and over the retaining bar.