Ahhhh can you smell that? I’m referring to is the smell of spring. The ground is thawing and the earth has awakened with life.
Here in northern Michigan we are excited to get back outside after a long cold winter freeze. I know I’m not the only one shoveling my snow banks onto my driveway in the afternoon sun in hopes that I can somehow expedite the onset of summer. Meanwhile our plants are slowly awakening from their winter dormancy period.
The most common questions I get as a green industry professional, especially this time of year, are regarding Mulch. How much mulch should we use? What kind of mulch should we use? What color mulch should we use? Why should I use mulch? These are all great questions and I hope to give some insight into the what, where, why and how in this post.
Why should you use mulch in your planting beds?
When applied properly mulch provides a variety of benefits to your landscape. It suppresses weed growth, delays the evaporation of moisture in your soil, and can certainly improve the aesthetics of your property.
What kind of mulch should I use?
I’ll get right to the point. How committed are you to maintaining your beds? If you are committed to getting your plant material and planting beds to their healthiest most attractive state, I would recommend a double or triple shredded pine bark mulch.
This product is very fine, almost a compost like consistency. When aged right it has an attractive dark brown color that compliments most landscapes and homes. This product also breaks down quickly, 2-3 years, thus preventing some of the mold and fungus situations you might encounter with wood or painted mulch.
If you plan on never spending any time in your beds tending to the plants and weeding, you might want to consider a stone mulch with a weed block fabric barrier underneath. Just be sure when using stone mulch to consider how the sun will interact with that material and affect your plants. For example, a darker stone mulch may increase the heat around plants thus drying them out. Stone mulch can also reflect sunlight on spring days causing frost cracking in the trunks of trees. I personally dislike any red stone mulch. Maybe it’s just a color my eye doesn’t like. I just find it not very unattractive and slightly tacky. There are however some nice slate, granite, and bluestone stone mulches that come in a variety of earth tone colors that I do find attractive if stone mulch must be used.
Bark Mulch vs. Wood Mulch and the size of the product
Bark mulch is my favorite for the aforementioned reasons. Wood mulch or wood chips, much of which is made of hardwood or recycled pallets, is something I would highly discourage. We have excavated FEET of wood mulch out of client’s beds that had been installed by so called professionals. Wood mulch also has a tendency to grow mold. Mold is obviously not a part of a healthy bed.
Other mulching considerations
Bed prep is probably the most important factor in the success of your mulching application. When using bark mulch, be sure to first collect and remove any loose debris, wood chips, and leaves from your beds. Next rake your bed flat.
Cut a clean edge. When possible we like to use a natural spade cut edge on our client’s beds. Metal edging offers less ongoing maintenance than a natural edge, but only when it is properly installed, which it rarely is. The only type of metal edging we install is powder coated black steel edging. It is heavy enough duty that it can be installed to proper depth and doesn't move or heave over time. I loath plastic edging.
Pre-Emergent is also recommended. Installing the manufacturer's recommended dose of pre-emergent can further suppress weed growth even beyond the capabilities of the coating of mulch itself. The cost of the pre-emergent is worth its weight in gold. If you pull your own weeds your back will thank you. Trust me.
Mulch can be installed at any time of the year but its best to prep your beds and get the product down before any perennials start to come up to avoid damaging their fragile new growth.
That’s the basics on mulch based on my experience in the field. I hope it helps.
-Donn Vidosh Jr, President, Vidosh North LLC