Myths About Mulch

By Lyle Weischwill | Nov. 08, 2015 3:12 pm PST

Keep your yard healthy by mulching.

Whether your flowerbeds are just taking root or you’re nursing a long-established vegetable garden, mulch can keep your greenery healthy and provide protection.

Despite its mixed reviews, successful gardeners know that organic mulches are more than a decorative layer. They’re one of the best ways to discourage weeds, maintain soil temperature and help protect your plants. We’ve debunked some myths about mulch that have taken root to help you get beyond the naysayers and breathe life into your garden.

Mulch Myth #1: Mulch is just a bunch of wood chips.

Pretty much anything you spread on your garden’s soil can be considered mulch: tree bark, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, straw and more. Gardeners will see good results when they choose a type of mulch based on what’s been planted in that area. You should apply mulch in the spring, after the ground has thawed and you’ve had a chance to till the soil, but before weeds have an opportunity to seed.

Mulch Myth #2: I have to buy mulch.

Just because you see your neighbors transporting truckloads of cedar bark from a lumberyard doesn’t mean you have to do the same. There are plenty of ways to create nutritious mulch for your home garden and yard landscaping, including compost mulch. Government and green-living websites, including the EPA’s, offer comprehensive lists that tell you how to compost and give you some of the best ingredients for a compost pile. For example, avoid black walnut leaves, which can release chemicals that are harmful to plants, and anything greasy from your kitchen that could attract pests.

Mulch Myth #3: I’ll throw some mulch on my garden — now my plants will thrive.

Unfortunately, no. Like the rest of your garden, mulch requires care, effort and attention. Be thoughtful in your mulch selection to make sure your mulch doesn’t cause more harm than good. For example, acid-loving berries would do well with mulch that affects the pH of the topsoil. Compost is another way to add nutrition to your plants. Just remember to keep your pile moist, turn it regularly and regulate the temperature. Composting will be free of weeds, bacteria and plant diseases if it reaches the proper temperature during its heating period (generally between 120ºF to 150ºF). Maintaining the right ratio of ingredients in a compost pile will create a chemical reaction between carbon and nitrogen that will speed up the composting cycle and make the pile heat quickly.

Mulch Myth #4: The more the merrier.

Don’t make mountains out of mulch. In fact, it’s best as a layer of 2 to 4 inches. If there’s too much built up around the base of a tree or shrub, for instance, the trunk may become damaged. And too thick a layer in your garden can affect the moisture and chemical exchange that your plants’ roots need to survive.

Choosing the Right Mulch for Your Garden

Because various plants require different levels of alkalinity, water or nutrients like nitrogen in the soil, how to choose the right mulch will depend on what you’re growing:

  • Flowers and shrub beds: compost, fine tree bark, shredded leaves, pine needles
  • Trees and shrubs: coarse tree bark
  • Vegetable gardens: compost, shredded leaves, grass clippings, straw
  • Berries: grass clippings, straw

And that, dear readers, is mulch ado about nothing! Happy gardening!

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