Mulch plays an important role in the landscaping around a home and garden. It can serve as an attractive way to block weed growth in bare areas. It also may add organic material to the soil and helps to conserve soil moisture, keeping your plants happier and your water bill lower. Various landscaping tips and principles for mulch usage can help you optimize the benefits of mulch.
Not all mulch materials are made alike. Common mulching materials include inorganic matter like gravel or crushed lava rock, and organic material like compost, straw and wood chips. For landscaping around homes and in frequented areas like pathways, inorganic mulches are ideal because they don't require frequent replacement and don't decompose, according to the University of Hawaii. If you choose to use organic mulches, the university recommends large, fibrous material like wood chips and shredded bark, which last longer than finely chopped mulching material and won't be easily disturbed.
The flammability of the mulching material plays an important safety role when placing it around a home. This is especially true in warm climates and when mulching near flammable housing structures like a wood porch, according to the University of Arizona. Adjacent areas should be mulched with inorganic mulches like rocks or gravel. The university says that organic material like wood chips should be used only starting approximately 15 to 30 feet from any flammable structures.
Gardeners must avoid the temptation to use too much mulch, which negates the positive characteristics of this garden element. Over-mulching can compact the soil, lead to poor aeration on the soil surface and block out rainfall. The University of Rhode Island advises the use of only 2 to 3 inches of fine mulch material, like shredded leaves, and 3 to 4 inches of coarse mulch material, like shredded wood chips.
When purchasing mulch, minimize the risk of purchasing too much or too little mulching material by estimating your needs ahead of time. Nurseries and garden stores typically sell mulch in packages containing 3 cubic yards. That's enough for a 2-inch layer of mulch in a 500-square-foot area, according to Utah State University.
Soil pH Levels
Landscapers should exercise caution or avoid the use of mineral-based inorganic mulch, like crushed coral. Though they might be attractive, such products may make the soil more alkaline in pH, according to the University of Hawaii.
Very coarse mulch material or mulch that has worn thin may be prone to weed invasions. Limit such invasions by laying black landscaping cloth on the soil before applying the mulch. This helps keep weeds at bay, even when open spots appear in the mulch where sunlight and moisture would otherwise encourage the growth of unwanted vegetation.
Landscapers shouldn't use highly reflective mulching material, like white straw or light colored gravel, near a home. Such mulching material reflects the heat of the sun's rays, according to the University of Rhode Island. In the summer, this may cause the building to heat up faster and hotter and boost the cost of cooling utility bills.
- "Taylor's Master Guide to Landscaping"; Rita Buchanan; 2000
- University of Hawaii: Mulching for Healthier Landscape Plants
- University of Arizona: Comparing the Ignitability of Mulch Materials for a Firewise Landscape
- University of Rhode Island: Mulch Factsheet
- Utah State University: Using Mulches in Utah Landscapes and Gardens
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