Mulch Ado About Nothing

comments (0) June 16th, 2015

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jgthegardener jgthegardener, member
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With gardening season in full swing, gardeners from all around are taking to the outdoors to nourish their plants. Gardeners have different ideas about which mulch is the best. With so many types of mulch available, how do you find the right one for your garden?

Things to Consider First

Not all mulch is created equal, and some will be more suited for the task at hand depending on your garden. Before choosing your mulch, you should consider:

    What kind of crops you're growing. Plastic wrap around tomato plants can prevent moisture from reaching the plants and promote blossom end rot, meaning a different kind of mulch would be a better match for that crop.

    The weather in your area. Some mulches retain more heat than others, which is great for places with a cooler summer but would be disastrous in another climate.

    Your soil. Is your soil dry? Does the pH need to be adjusted?

Pine Needles

Pine needles can be hard to find commercially, but raking them up from around pine plantings to use should supply enough mulch. Pine needles can be left on all year as long as you renew the mulch annually.

Pine needles:

    can be aesthetically pleasing and bring a bit of flair to your garden

    decompose slowly

    resist compaction.

    are easy to work with 

    acidify the soil for acid loving plants like azaleas, gardenias and hydrangeas


Keep in mind that hay and straw are different things – hay is generally more nutritious for your soil, while straw is better for just covering the ground and creating walkways. Hay may contain weed seeds but many gardeners just use a process that kills the weeds called solarization – wrapping bales of hay in clear plastic and allowing them to sit in the sun for a week or two. If you have a larger area to cover and plan to buy giant bales of hay, consider utilizing a forklift to help you move your mulch.

Using hay in your garden:

    improves the quality of your soil

    retains water 

    can suppress or prevent weeds

Tree Bark

Bark mulch is generally made from the byproduct of milled woods such as Douglas fir, redwood, pine and spruce trees. This mulch can be found in three different varieties: bark chunks, bark granules and shredded bark. Some bark mulch may be toxic to new plants, especially if the bark is fresh – always try to buy bark mulch that has been weathered before using it.

Bark mulch is:

    resistant to compaction

    a slightly heavier mulch and less likely to blow in the wind

    attractive and natural looking in your garden

    widely available

Black Plastic

Obviously, plastic isn't organic like our other options and doesn't decay, but it offers other benefits.

Plastic mulch:

    draws in more heat and is ideal for cooler summers

    keeps water from escaping

    suppresses weed growth

The downside of plastic mulch is that while it traps water, it also doesn't allow water through the barrier, preventing new water from reaching the soil.


Newspaper is an option that is not only cheap and widely available, but also encourages earthworms to till the soil in your garden and fertilize the area with castings.


To use newspaper in your garden:

    avoid colorful glossy paper that takes longer to break down and may contain toxic chemicals

    bend down any tall weeds before covering

    take newspapers and lay them end-to-end around your plants, covering all the weeds and preventing light from reaching them

    cover newspaper with a layer of a different kind of mulch about 3 inches high to keep the newspaper from blowing away

Cocoa Shell Mulch

Cocoa shell mulch is made from – you guessed it – cocoa shells. Not only does it add a beautiful textured look to your garden, it also smells pleasantly chocolaty and delicious. One word of caution: Cocoa mulch can be toxic to dogs, so if your home is filled with furry friends you might want to avoid this option.

Cocoa mulch:

    looks beautiful and natural; imitates the color of soil

    will not fade over time; cocoa shell mulch only gets darker as it ages 

    will smell of chocolate for weeks 

    breaks down to feed your plants 

    attracts earthworms


There is no one wonder mulch that does it all with no drawbacks; each option has its own list of pros and cons. With so many options out there, you have plenty to choose from when finding the mulch that works best for your garden. If you find that one type of mulch isn't yielding the results you'd like to see, give another mulch a shot and keep an eye out for changes. A healthy, weedless garden may be just a distant dream for some of us, but that shouldn't stop us from trying. 

posted in: Gardening, mulch, hay