Getting the Most From Your Mulch

You might think that one mulch is the same as another … but you won’t be doing your planting beds any favors.

Mulch is a largely beneficial addition to any landscaping. The type of mulch matters, though. Some can create unforeseen problems down the road.

The best mulches are made from natural hardwoods. These mulches add nitrogen to soil as they decay, providing a vital nutrient for plants. You’ll have to buy from a garden store (read the labels on the bags!) or a professional landscaper. Know ahead of time that they aren’t the cheapest, either.

What are the alternatives? OK, let’s start with the cheapest option.

Chances are your municipal recycling center offers free mulch. The piles are often high, and the supply plentiful. Understand, though, where this mulch comes from: dead and dying brush and branches that people drop off. The chipped material can be a witches’ brew of weeds, seeds and diseases. What’s free now might cost you time and money later, to deal with problems imported with the mulch.

Colored mulches, often called “enviro-mulch,” are ground-up pallets with chemical dyes added. Because the recycled pallets are pine, the mulch adds acid to soil. Similarly, hemlock and cedar mulches add acid as they decay.

Changing the pH levels in soil affects what grows well there. Some plants react well; others, not so much. Evergreens, yews and boxwoods are among the species that welcome more acidic growing conditions.

Rubber mulches last a long, long time. Obviously, they add no nutrients to the soil, and don’t hold moisture like organic material does.

If you like the look of colored mulch, consider putting a base of hardwood mulch directly on top of soil, then the colored material on top. You’ll have the best benefits of both.

Adding mulch is a fast, uncomplicated way to make planting beds more attractive and healthy. Just keep in mind that not all mulches are alike. Knowing the differences can make all the difference.

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