Past Articles Library | Mulch: Every Gardener's Little Secret
Every gardener knows how a layer of mulch adds that finishing touch to any landscape. But did you know there are uses for mulch beyond esthetics and that each type of mulch has its own pro and con.
Weed Barrier Mulch
If anyone has landscaped their yard, they are very familiar with the barrier that comes on a roll. This barrier can be found in any home improvement center, garden center, and even at discount stores. It is dark in color, relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and lasts several years.
How this mulch works is that it blocks the sun from reaching the soil. This prevents the weeds underneath the cloth from growing and/or germinating. While the sun cannot penetrate, water, on the other hand, can.
To use this type of mulch, simply requires the gardener to prepare the garden soil as usual by removing all plant material. Then, roll out the landscape cloth and cut where needed. This cloth is secured to the ground with landscape staples. These staples are pushed through the cloth and into the soil.
Planting the landscape through this cloth only requires a knife. Simply lay out the plant material on the landscape cloth in the desired locations. When ready to plant, pick up one plant and cut an “X” in the landscape cloth. Fold the “X” back and dig the correct size hole for the plant. Plant the plant in the hole as usual and when completed close up the “X” around the plant.
When all the plants have been planted, top the weed barrier with your choice of decorative mulch.
Colored Plastic Mulch
Colored plastic mulch, in recent years, has taken the spot light in the vegetable garden. Many of these colored plastic mulches go beyond warming the soil so that the crop can be planted earlier but also, as a way of increasing yield. This increase is due to a certain wavelength that is reflected back when a certain color of plastic is used. Every plant has a certain wavelength that they use to maximize the process of photosynthesis and the right color of plastic can optimize this process.
Red Plastic-Red plastic is commonly used for tomatoes and eggplant.
Blue Plastic-Blue plastic is commonly found around cucumbers, squash and melons
Mylar or aluminum covered mulch-This mulch is used not only to increase the yield from peppers and potatoes but also as an insect repellent. The color combined with sunlight blinds the insects so that they cannot see the plants to land on. These insects include white flies, aphids, and thrips.
Yellow/Brown Plastic Mulch-This mulch is dark brown on one side with bright yellow on the other. The brown side is placed on the ground with the yellow side on top. This type of mulch is used around the garden space. The yellow attracts pests away from the garden and the dark brown backing heats the plastic up. This heating up makes the plastic hot and kills the insects when they land.
Organic mulch is any type of mulch that is Mother Nature made and breaks down. This includes mulch made from wood and pecan shells.
This collective type of mulch works well as a weed suppressor, helps retain soil moisture, and reduces the amount of water that splashes back on to plant material. This last fact is important when it comes to controlling plant disease.
Pine Bark-This type of mulch comes in different sized nuggets and is a beautiful natural brown color. The larger the nugget the more likely you will loose some of the mulch when it rains. Large nuggets tend to float down the landscape and away.
This mulch works well as a weed suppressor only if 2 to 3 inches are laid on top of the soil. When using this mulch, beware that it attracts many insects including termites.
Shredded Hardwood-This mulch suppresses weeds, will not wash away, and decomposes slowly. Does not attract insects.
Wood Chips-This type of mulch is a mixture of different sized chips, that when laid 2 to 3 inches deep suppresses weeds. But since small chips exist in this mulch, it has a tendency to deplete the soil of nitrogen. If this mulch is used, a fertilizer high in nitrogen will need to be applied.
Pecan Shells-This type of mulch is only available in areas where pecans are grown and processed. This mulch is long lasting and an excellent way of retaining soil moisture.
This type of mulch can be Mother Nature made when considering stone mulch but also includes rubber and glass.
Stone such as pebbles, gravel and crushed stone-This type of mulch should only be used in areas as permanent mulch and only around plant that thrive in an alkaline soil. Do not use around acid-loving plants. The alkaline nature of rock will change the pH of the soil.
Stone is an excellent weed suppressor and only requires 1-inch coverage. But the light color of the rock cause sunlight to reflect back and create a heat island in the landscape. This microclimate in many situations is too hot for the plant material.
Rubber Mulch-Rubber mulch is produced by grinding up old tires. It can then be dyed to any color. This mulch is very versatile but it should only be used in areas that are going to be permanently landscaped.
Glass Mulch-Is a new product that is being found in many professional landscapes but is available to the common gardener. Many recycling centers are offering this mulch free but call first before going to your local recycling center. The mulch from these areas is a combination of colors.
Presently some home improvement centers are selling it in several different colors and cuts. This type of mulch can be quite expensive depending on the area to be covered. To reduce the cost, only use this mulch to hi-light an area.
This mulch is broken and tumbled with sand to smooth out the edges so there is no need to worry about cutting yourself. But, as a safety measure, always wear gloves when working with it. Also, if using a light colored glass consider using a light colored landscape cloth. This will reduce the amount of glass mulch needed.
Mulch adds beauty to any landscape. Regardless of what type of garden you may have, mulch is an inexpensive way of saving time and keeping weeds at bay.